New allegations that Turkey’s intelligence service leaked the identities of Israeli agents to Iran have placed scrutiny on President Barack Obama’s close relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and raised questions about the future of cooperation between United States and Turkish intelligence agencies.
Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) allegedly revealed the identities of as many as 10 Iranians who were meeting covertly with Israeli spies in Turkey, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported Wednesday. Israeli and Turkish intelligence have had a close collaboration for decades.
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U.S. officials declined to protest the leak directly to Turkey after it was discovered, according to the Post. President Obama also pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come to a detente with Erdogan in March after several years of strained relations stemming from the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid.
"That Obama didn't condemn the leak really is as great a scandal as Turkey betraying the secrets in the first place, especially given how the United States benefits so directly from Israel's intelligence gathering," said Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Rubin said the Obama administration should have halted U.S. intelligence cooperation with Turkey as soon as it became aware of the leak.
"Not only should Obama have protested the leak, but he should have immediately suspended intelligence sharing with Turkey," Rubin said. "If Turkey, in a fit of pique, is willing to betray Israel's secrets, then he could just as easily blackmail the United States."
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom said he could not imagine friendly intelligence services continuing to cooperate closely with Turkey’s MIT if the allegations are true. He said such a leak by a supposed ally was "unheard of" in his years working in intelligence.
"Who is going now to trust them? Who is going now to cooperate with them? Who is going now to share sensitive information with them?" Yatom said on a conference call organized by the Israel Project on Thursday. "I think what we will see in the very near future is the deterioration in intelligence relations between the MIT and all its, until today, friendly parallel organizations."
He said he did not believe a disclosure of that magnitude could not have occurred without Erdogan’s knowledge. He also predicted that the Iranians identified in the leak have "either have been executed, or they will be executed" by the Iranian regime.
The Obama administration defended its relationship with Turkey and a State Department spokesperson declined to address the allegations directly during Thursday’s press briefing.
"We work with the Turks," said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. "They're a close ally. We work with them on a range of issues."
"Our position has not changed on our relationship with Turkey," she added.
Rubin said Obama’s unwillingness to criticize Turkey could be related to his own chilly relationship with Netanyahu.
"Obama seems to put his antipathy for Netanyahu above the national security of the United States, and that is truly shameful," he said.