Since David Ignatius of The Washington Post broke the story on Oct. 16 that Turkey revealed to Iran the identities of as many as 10 Iranians working for the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, there seems no doubt on the Turkish side that Ignatius is being used against Turkey by Israel or pro-Israel US government officials to establish a conspiracy to degrade its credibility and cut short its rising star as a pivotal player influencing regional dynamics.
Many in the Ankara beltway are convinced this exclusive story is almost a personal matter between Ignatius and the Erdogan government. They recall the infamous “one-minute” incident, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost his temper and stormed offstage during a discussion on Gaza in January 2009 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan blamed Ignatius, the moderator of that panel discussion, saying he had not given equal time to Erdogan as was given to Israeli President Shimon Peres, and that Ignatius wasn’t privileged enough to tap the shoulder of a prime minister of any country in that way.
That background, however, says nothing about whether Turkey shared this critical intelligence with Iran or not. Turkish government officials’ denials also don’t necessarily mean that what Ignatius reported was wrong in substance. As one source told Al-Monitor, “Words like betrayal, treachery and perfidy aren’t heard much inside NATO — but they are very much in the air now, and attitudes toward Turkey are changed. It’s appalling — and disgraceful.”
It can be a misleading assumption that there is a real change in attitude toward Turkey as result of this breaking story. Nothing happens instantly, or coincidentally, in affairs of state.
But what do journalists know? Journalists usually learn about such reported matters quite late in the game — if they are lucky, and if state officials see any advantage in leaking it to the public. The question therefore may very well be, why now; and what is to be accomplished by this bombshell information being publicized.
Could this be part of a ploy to set the stage for unilateral action against Iran, or something deeper in the maneuverings against the al Quds Force with Saudi pressure? And if the Turks have really done what is claimed of them, how is it possible that they failed to fully understand what the Iranian nuclear program means for Israel, and that in such a betrayal the United States would not leave Israel in the cold? So, how could Ankara calculate that it could continue to be the rising star in the region by going against Washington and Jerusalem? How is it really possible?
In brief, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu argued that Turkish officials have not betrayed their trust, and did not shop these crucial Israeli intelligence players to Iran. Still, though, the Turkish government might be adopting a bad tactic in combating these allegations — if they are not true — by referencing the same theme it so forcefully used during the Gezi Park protests: that the public reaction was the work of foreign powers.
In the same prism, one may try to credit Davutoglu, who contends that the allegations that Turkey leaked intelligence to Iran are “unfounded.” “Various campaigns both on the international and national level are ongoing,” Davutoglu said Thursday, Oct. 17. Arguing that the government’s foreign policies are flawless, he said they would defy these orchestrated campaigns against its policies by “walking in this sacred path.” He added: “There has been a campaign in the past three to four months to discredit our 10-year experience. They wanted to see the old Turkey returning.”
The Turkish prime minister asserted that an “international interest-rate lobby” was behind the Gezi Park protests, but still remains ambiguous as to who they actually were; many interpreted it to mean pro-Israel business owners in the United States and elsewhere, trying to bring down the Erdogan government.
But again, it would be best to bring a cautious approach to all things considered intelligence, without being 100% sure as to why this leak happened; why now; and whether it was true in substance. One can’t help acknowledging the bad blood between Israel and Turkey since the Erdogan government adopted a pro-Hamas position in defense of Palestinian rights, and that the relationship broke apart after the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, where Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on board that flotilla.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended Israel’s official apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March 2013 regarding this incident, but there is still no normalization in relations, despite some small steps such as Israeli diplomats being invited to official receptions in Ankara.
It’s quite evident that Turkey does not see any benefit in normalizing the relationship with Israel — at least for now, since the country already has entered the election season starting with the first vote for choosing new local administrations coming up in March 2014, followed by the election of the country’s next president in August 2014 through a public vote for the first time, and the general election in 2015.
In this climate, the Erdogan government seems to prefer stirring up a storm in justifying keeping relations with Israel at a stalemate — possibly with a calculus that it will serve the government well at the ballot box. Davutoglu said, for example, on Sept. 26, that Israel has not yet fulfilled the three conditions for normalizing relations. According to Davutoglu, Israel fulfilled only one of the three conditions to restore ties by apologizing to Turkey for the loss of the nine Turks aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara flotilla. Turkey is also demanding that Israel pay compensation to the families of those killed, and that it end restrictions “against Palestine,” which is specifically a call to the Jewish state to lift the naval blockade of Gaza. Davutoglu, however, did say that the negotiations over the amount of money to be paid as compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara incident are “moving forward,” without getting into details.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem speaking to Al-Monitor, however, stress that although there is hope in these negotiations despite their small achievements, Turkey is more in the business of turning the issue of compensation into a punitive action, and that they don’t expect relations to be normalized until after the election season. “They demand huge sums of money. This is another way of saying, ‘I don’t want to reach an agreement. You have liability on what happened,’” the diplomatic source in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview. “But we believe we can overcome all the technical limbo with goodwill and innovation. From our point of view, Netanyahu’s apology is a huge step.”
The Israeli diplomatic source added: “When Israel extended the apology, we had a condition that Turkey would bring the final deal with Israel [over the Mavi Marmara incident] to the Turkish parliament for ratification, so that all the existing and potential court cases against the Israeli government and military officials would be over. But this looks unlikely to happen, because the Turkish government turned an international crisis into an issue in domestic politics. With the upcoming elections, we don’t see them fulfilling this aspect of [the agreement.]”
Faruk Logoglu, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Al-Monitor on Thursday, Oct.17, that Erdogan was wrong to promise Israel a parliamentary guarantee for getting Israel off the hook in the Turkish courts. “No such thing can come up to the parliament for ratification. It will be wrong to bring it to the parliament, but it seems the prime minister gave such a promise to the Israelis,” he told Al-Monitor. “The reason why I am objecting to bringing such a thing to parliament is that it will be wrong for the parliament to order the courts to decide on a case as it wishes.
"The government, however, may bring new legislation to the floor, and specify clearly that Israeli actions that constitute a crime are no longer accepted as one. It can then be brought up for discussion on the floor, but it will look so out of place that it also doesn’t look likely.” Logoglu suggested that the government could order the courts to decide as it wishes, since this is becoming a custom in Turkish practice, casting a shadow on the independence of the judiciary. “It is only the courts' to decide in the end to bring an end to these trial processes,” he said.
Logoglu, however, made the case that it would serve Turkey’s interests to normalize relations with Israel sooner rather than later. “First, Turkey can be more valuable to Palestinians if it renews its relationship with Israel. Second, this may also help strengthen Turkey’s relationship with the United States. Third, Turkey may also benefit from this in defeating the bills [coming to the US Congress] about the Armenian issue. The pro-Israeli lobby in Washington had helped Turkey in doing that for many years, but they are now staying distant and that is also turning negative for Turkey. This needs to be overcome,” he told Al-Monitor. “Fourth, Turkey now depends on the Haifa port to export its products to their destinations due to the security challenges in Syria and Iraq. This may turn into a dependency and Israel may well use it as a chip against Turkey. Last but not least, Turkey can only benefit by normalizing its relationship with Israel in taking a share in the newly discovered oil and natural gas resources. It is now Israel, Greek Cyprus, and Greece that are pulling together in this business.”
In the end, these are all issues that serve to advance Turkey’s foreign policy interests. And there seems a sharp distinction in terms of where CHP and AKP define Turkey’s role in the newly shaping region, which Ignatius summed up best: “The Netanyahu-Erdogan quarrel, with its overlay of intelligence thrust and parry, is an example of the kaleidoscopic changes that may be ahead in the Middle East. The United States, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are all exploring new alliances and struggling to find a new equilibrium — overtly and covertly.”
So, who knows what the Erdogan-Davutoglu team is really thinking about this new era in the region, and how does it define its policies to be right to a tee? The Syrian situation is an absolute mess, and Iran has started to talk directly to the United States. While it does not make Turkey irrelevant, as these are really not zero-sum affairs, it may prove that Turkey is not as important to these talks as it claims to be.
In any case, the Ankara government’s perception of its perfection remains a mystery to — at least – some of us. All that aside, though, if Turkey really shopped that intelligence to Iran, it is guaranteed that such actions usually are followed by a boomerang effect. So, good luck to everyone: These relationships are only going to get worse.
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. On Twitter: @TurkeyPulse