Turkey busts Mossad network
Seven members of an Israeli spy ring were arrested by the counterintelligence branch of the country’s National Intelligence Organization, as part of a crackdown on an allegedly larger spy network. According to the Daily Sabah, the seven were part of a 56-member team operated remotely from Tel Aviv by Israeli handlers, who communicated with the separate cells using burner phones. The report said the seven, who were not identified, confessed to working for Israeli intelligence.
According to reports, the espionage activities were primarily overseen by Israelis of Arab descent, while the spy network consisted of individuals from various Middle Eastern countries. Communication between agents in Turkey and abroad relied on temporary mobile phone lines registered under fake identities from different countries including Spain, England, Germany, Sweden, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Belgium.
One case highlighted involved an agent known as ‘Shirin Alayan’ who used a German phone line to direct a Palestinian Mossad operative named Khaled Nijim. Their objective was to create fictitious news platforms and websites designed to attract targets through specific articles. Clicking on these articles would infect their devices with viruses. The mentioned websites included najarland.com, almeshar.com, nasrin-news.com, and hresource.co.uk.
Additionally, Turkish-based Mossad agents of Arab origin were deployed to Arab nations like Lebanon and Syria to gather intelligence for potential Israeli drone strikes. In Beirut, agents focused on the Haret Hreik municipality, identifying precise coordinates for a building housing high-ranking political and military figures of the Hezbollah movement on its third floor.
One of the network leaders, codenamed ‘Abdulla Qassem,’ believed to be a Jordanian residing in Sweden, remotely instructed an individual named Zeyd Saadeddin to photograph a strategically important building in Damascus’ Qudsiyeh district and assess its security level.
In parallel with their intelligence-gathering efforts, Mossad reportedly arranged covert trips for numerous agents, particularly Turkish nationals, to Serbia, Dubai, and Bangkok, where Turkish citizens enjoy visa-free entry. These trips, disguised as tourist visits, concluded with the agents receiving advanced espionage training at a Mossad facility in Bangkok.
The Mossad’s activities in Turkey
Turkish intelligence, in collaboration with security services, has consistently conducted operations to uncover and dismantle Mossad spy cells and networks within Turkey in recent years. These efforts have intensified in response to regional developments.
While Mossad and its operatives have been the primary focus of Turkish intelligence, Iranian intelligence cells have also been exposed and apprehended within Turkey. These Iranian cells were involved in attempts to abduct dissidents. However, Mossad continues to be the most prominent foreign intelligence agency to have infiltrated Turkey thus far.
In October 2021, Turkish security services arrested 15 agents suspected of working for Israel’s spy agency Mossad operating in several cities. Then in December 2022, they arrested 44 more people for allegedly leaking information to Mossad.
Turkish intelligence also discovered that Mossad sent agents of Arab origin from Istanbul to Lebanon and Syria to gather information and identify targets for drone attacks. Other agents were deployed to Beirut to gather information on the Islamic State. They reportedly pinpointed the precise location of a building occupied by Hezbollah, as well as the identities of senior military and political leaders residing on the third floor of the same building.
How ties will be impacted
Although the uncovering of more Israeli spies in Turkey is certainly an area of major concern for the Erdogan administration, it will be unlikely to prevent the development of Israeli-Turkish ties in the next months, as Erdogan looks to continue the trend for regional peace deals and the resulting stability in Turkey’s neighborhood, as well as pursuing common interests in the Mediterranean with the latter.
In the coming month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to meet, aiming to improve the historically strained relations between their countries. Bloomberg reported that recent progress in tourism, business collaboration, and the potential for gas shipments has created an opportunity for a thaw in their long-standing frosty relationship.
Several factors are driving this push for reconciliation. The disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran’s activities in the region have incentivized both leaders to seek better ties. Turkey’s growing concerns over Iran’s increasing influence in Syria, particularly its support for groups hostile to Israel such as Hezbollah, have prompted a reassessment of their relationship. Additionally, Azerbaijan’s successful reclamation of occupied territories with the help of Israeli and Turkish drones has highlighted the importance of strengthening regional ties.
Israel and Turkey are actively pursuing improved relations with other Middle Eastern nations. Israel established diplomatic ties with the UAE and Morocco in 2020, while Turkey restored its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Both Erdogan and Netanyahu face significant domestic pressures, which add urgency to the potential meeting. Netanyahu has faced mass protests in response to his attempts to weaken the judiciary’s power, while Erdogan has undertaken economic reforms following his recent re-election to address the cost-of-living crisis.
Bilateral trade between Turkey and Israel has already shown growth, with an 11 percent increase in trade volume. Turkish exports to Israel reached $7 billion last year, while imports stood at approximately $2.5 billion.
If their schedules permit, the leaders are expected to meet in Ankara in July. As part of efforts to repair ties, Israel will likely promise to end Mossad operations in Turkey.