Earlier today, the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported a fairly serious charge that Turkey, in a fit of spite for Israel, blew the cover of as many as 10 Iranian spies working for the Mossad last year.
Knowledgeable sources describe the Turkish action as a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap the Israelis.” The incident, disclosed here for the first time, illustrates the bitter, multi-dimensional spy wars that lie behind the current negotiations between Iran and Western nations over a deal to limit the Iranian nuclear program. A Turkish Embassy spokesman had no comment.
Turkish officials ultimately did respond. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu issued a stern denial of the accusation, saying it was part of a campaign to discredit Turkey.
There have been “various campaigns, both on [an] international and national level,” aimed at the policies of senior government officials, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the Turkish intelligence Hakan Fidan, Today’s Zaman reported Davutoglu as saying.
“There has been a campaign… to discredit our 10-year experience,” Davutoglu said, referring to the decade that Erdogan has been in power. “They wanted to see [the] old Turkey returning back.”
Truth be told, I think Turkey has been on a ten-year campaign to discredit Turkey. Israeli officials did not confirm or deny the accusation, but strong words came from former Mossad chief Danny Yatom who characterized the hypothetical incident as a violation “against all the rules which have existed for many years, the unwritten rules concerning cooperation between intelligence organizations that reveal sensitive information to one another and trust one another not to use that information to harm whoever gave it to them.”
The germ of the conflict between Israel and Turkey is the 2010 flotilla incident, in which a group of ships set to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Eight Turkish civilians and one Turkish-American on the Mavi Marmara died after attacking IDF troops as they boarded the ship. Max Fisher suggested that this spy incident may explain why an Israeli apology for the incident didn’t come.
This does not explain, of course, why Netanyahu wouldn’t have apologized between the initial 2010 raid and this reported 2012 spy outing. But it gives us a hint of what the Israeli-Turkish relationship has been like behind the scenes — not very good.
There’s a larger lesson here: many developments in international relations happen in secret, with incidents like this that we never hear about. In following it as it happens, we’re only seeing part of the picture. We’re all working with incomplete information — that includes heads of state as well as regular people and professional journalists and analysts — and it can be easy to draw imperfect or outright false conclusions. Things aren’t always quite what they seem.
As a transgressor myself, I’ll say amen.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.