Turkey deliberately blew the cover of an Israeli spy ring working inside Iran in early 2012 and dealt a significant blow to Israeli intelligence gathering, according to a report in the Washington Post on Thursday.
There was no immediate comment from Israel or Turkey, but Israeli ministers have accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of adopting an anti-Israeli stance in recent years to bolster his country’s standing in the Muslim world.
Once-strong relations between Turkey and Israel hit the rocks in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists who were seeking to break Israel’s long-standing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Israel apparently used to run part of its Iranian spy network out of Turkey, giving Turkish secret services the opportunity to monitor their movements. The paper quoted U.S. officials as saying Israel believed that the Turks would never turn on the Jewish state after years of cooperation.
However, it said that in early 2012 Erdogan disclosed to Tehran the identities of 10 Iranians who had travelled to Turkey to meet Israeli spies.
In April 2012, Iran announced that it had broken up a large Israeli spy network and arrested 15 suspects. It was not clear if this was connected to the alleged Turkish leak.
Iran has long accused Israel of spying inside the Islamic Republic and of killing a string of Iranian nuclear scientists – the last in January 2012. Israel and the West accuse Iran of looking to build an atomic bomb. Tehran denies this.
Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin declined to comment on the Washington Post report, but said relations with Turkey were “very complex”.
“The Turks made a strategic decision … to seek the leadership of our region, in the Middle East, and they chose the convenient anti-Israeli card in order to build up leadership,” he told Israel Radio.
Energy Minister Silvan Shalom also declined to comment, but told Israel Radio that after unrest shook the Arab world in 2011, Erdogan had sought to win “legitimisation as the undisputed leader of the new revolution”.
The United States tried to broker a reconciliation between its allies Turkey and Israel in March, persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologise for the 2010 killings.
However, Israeli officials said subsequent attempts to build bridges by agreeing on a deal to compensate families of those killed in the Israeli naval raid had floundered.
“The only thing that we have achieved since March is to show the Americans that Erdogan is not remotely interested in a reconciliation,” said an Israeli diplomat, who declined to be named given the sensitivity surrounding the issue.
Shortly after the 2010 incident off the shores of Gaza, the then-Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak voiced concern that Turkey could share Israeli intelligence secrets with Iran.
“There are quite a few secrets of ours (entrusted to Turkey) and the thought that they could become open to the Iranians over the next several months … is quite disturbing,” Israel’s Army Radio quoted him as saying in August 2010.