How the Mossad finally crossed Turkiye’s red lines
Hasan Illaik, The Cradle, July 5, 2023 —
Once intelligence-sharing partners, Israel’s notorious Mossad spy agency now faces a massive backlash from Turkiye for violating its sovereignty and infiltrating its national security arena.
In a series of covert operations spanning the past two years, Turkiye’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has relentlessly exposed Israeli spy networks operating on Turkish soil. The most recent revelation on 3 July, marking the fourth roundup of Israeli agents since October 2021, highlights a significant shift in the dynamics of security cooperation between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
For decades, Turkish intelligence and the Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – enjoyed an unwritten understanding, enabling Mossad agents to freely navigate Turkish territory. This arrangement was based on a political alliance between the two countries. However, recent years have witnessed a dramatic transformation, as the Mossad’s focus inside Turkiye shifted from pursuing Israel’s adversaries globally to recruiting Turkish citizens as its covert operatives.
Speaking to The Cradle on condition of anonymity, Turkish security officials say that the recruitment of Turkish citizens by Mossad operatives represents a significant breach of Turkiye’s national security. The implications of such a breach are far-reaching, providing the Mossad access to sensitive information on Turkiye’s security, military capabilities, and economic standing. The move also opens the door for potential covert operations on Turkish soil, posing a direct threat to Turkiye’s sovereignty.
The same sources reveal that several months ago, Turkish intelligence reached out to various security agencies involved in combating Israeli espionage, both within and beyond the Arab world, seeking an information exchange to dismantle Mossad agent networks. The collaboration extended to countries across West Asia, indicating the gravity of the situation and Ankara’s determination to address the growing threat.
Shutting down the spooks
In May of this year, MIT intelligence disclosed the dismantling of a Mossad network that was primarily gathering intelligence on Iranians and Palestinians residing in Turkiye. Initially, some observers linked the incident to the Turkish presidential elections, suggesting a strategic move by eventual winner President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to garner popular support. However, security sources intimately connected to Turkish intelligence dismiss such speculations, highlighting the dismantling of previous Mossad cells in December 2022 and October 2021.
These espionage cells aimed to collect sensitive information, primarily focusing on Palestinian students who could potentially work in defense-related fields in the future, as well as influential Iranian figures and companies. Of particular concern was the Mossad’s infiltration into the realm of “special investigations,” a sector deeply valued by Turkish intelligence. This breach struck at the core of Turkiye’s sovereignty, providing Mossad with an infrastructure to compromise Turkish security and interests.
The latest crackdown on Mossad networks exemplifies the outcomes of a highly coordinated effort between Turkish intelligence and allied agencies. Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, known for its pro-government leanings, revealed that the network included individuals of Turkish, Lebanese, and Syrian nationalities.
The publication featured photographs of seven apprehended individuals, claiming they were part of a larger “ghost network” of 56 people linked to nine Mossad cells. The network had employed deceptive tactics, establishing fake websites masquerading as employment services while discreetly amassing the CVs of potential recruits.
The red line: Recruiting foreign spies in Turkiye
What is remarkable, according to the newspaper, is that a number of these spies had previously carried out missions for the Mossad in Beirut, Lebanon, and Syria – in Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. They collected information about a number of military officials in the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, and identified the building in which one of them lives in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital.
This information, which was leaked by Turkish security, seems to be a political message to both Hezbollah and Israel, says a regional security official with close ties to the Turks: A positive message to the Lebanese resistance, and a negative one to Tel Aviv. In essence, a harsh warning that if the Mossad oversteps inside Turkish territory, Ankara will reveal additional data about Israeli intelligence efforts against Hezbollah.
In general, Turkiye is cracking down on regional intel operations launched in and from its territories. In February 2022, Turkish intelligence dismantled a spy cell allegedly working for Iranian intelligence, which it claims was planning to carry out a security operation against an Israeli businessman. Ankara has also announced crackdowns on Russian spy networks.
In doing so, Turkiye is sending a message to “all its allies that it will not allow them to transfer their conflicts to its territory,” the regional security source tells The Cradle.
Others, however, believe that the repeated revelations about the dismantling of Mossad networks reflect a political trend that is still in its infancy in the Turkish security services. In essence, the “good” political relationship and excellent commercial relationship between Ankara and Tel Aviv no longer applies to their intelligence relations.
According to officials linked to Turkish intelligence, relations between the latter and the Mossad are no longer as warm as they were before Hakan Fidan became the head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan – now Turkiye’s minister of foreign affairs – had remained committed to a position of neutrality between Israel and its enemies, albeit more inclined to sympathize with the latter.
Security officials say that Turkish intelligence had long ignored warnings from its Arab counterparts that the Mossad was attempting to recruit Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, and others on Turkish soil. But Fidan began to take this information into account, say Arab intel sources, which has now prompted Turkish intelligence to take action.
Spying on Palestinians in Turkiye
Ankara had previously requested the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas to limit its activities in Turkish territory, a move that failed to placate the Mossad. Israeli intelligence agencies have long expressed unease over the fields of study pursued by a significant number of Palestinian students in Turkish universities, including mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, and informatics.
The concerns surrounding Palestinian students enrolled in specialized STEM fields in Turkish universities add another layer of complexity to the Ankara-Tel Aviv relationship. While Turkiye’s provision of free scholarships to some 600 Palestinian students aims to promote education and opportunity, Israeli intelligence agencies fear that these specializations could be exploited for military purposes by Palestinian resistance factions. The surveillance of these students and individuals accused of supporting the Palestinian resistance further complicates the delicate dynamics between the two countries.
The future of Ankara-Tel Aviv ties is uncertain
Turkish security sources inform The Cradle that Mossad agents are actively monitoring certain Palestinian students while keeping tabs on associations and individuals accused by the US and Israel of supporting the Palestinian resistance. However, the Mossad’s activities in Turkiye go beyond mere intelligence gathering, with an evident focus on identifying potential threats to Israeli interests.
The scope of Mossad’s activities in the country raises questions about the future of Ankara-Tel Aviv political ties, which are currently not at their optimal level, despite the full resumption of relations last year. While an official close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara suggests that “time will reveal the answer,” the repeated exposure of Mossad spies and their mission against Israel’s adversaries sends a clear political message.
Turkiye is making clear to Tel Aviv that any further interference with its national security will strain relations, potentially leading to a further deterioration in ties. This potential outcome poses a significant challenge for the occupation state, particularly as it seeks to readjust its geopolitical strategy amidst a new era of West Asian connectivity involving Russia and China.