JERUSALEM – Persistently strained relations between Israel and Turkey have not been helped by a report that last year that Turkey revealed to Iran the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had spied for Israel.
The Israeli government would not comment Thursday on the report, but Danny Yatom, a former chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told Israel Radio, “Assuming that this is true, this was an extraordinarily malicious thing to do.”
A column published Wednesday on the Washington Post’s website reported that, in early 2012, the Turkish government made the disclosures about Iranians who had been meeting Israeli intelligence officers on Turkish soil. The column, by David Ignatius, said that “knowledgeable sources” called the episode a “significant” loss of intelligence and “an effort to slap at the Israelis,” and that the betrayal had marred a 50-year intelligence alliance between Turkey and Israel.
The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said in televised remarks Thursday that the allegations in the column were “without any foundation.”
Turkey, which shares borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria, among other countries, once served as “a convenient place for Israel to work to reach people from hostile countries,” Yatom said. But while there had been “outstanding” cooperation in earlier years between Israel and Turkey, Israel now is “not open with the Turks, as we were in the past,” Yatom said.
Turkey once ranked as Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, and it took part in joint exercises in the Mediterranean with the Israeli and U.S. navies, and allowed Israeli jet pilots to train in Turkey’s relatively vast airspace.
But relations began to sour over Israel’s deadly three-week offensive against the Hamas militant group controlling Gaza in the winter of 2008-09. The strategic partnership weakened further in May 2010, when Israeli commandos met resistance when boarding ships seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, and eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent were killed.
Still, Gallia Lindenstrauss of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that there had been a decrease in tension between Israel and Turkey since March and that private sector bilateral trade was continuing as usual.
Turkish exporters have also been using Israel as a trade corridor in recent months, with Turkey docking ships in Israeli ports, then transporting goods over land to Jordan and other Arab countries in order to bypass the civil war in Syria.