ISIL’s response to Turkish-Israeli intelligence cooperation

ISIL’s response to Turkish-Israeli intelligence cooperation

It is an open secret in the world of diplomacy and intelligence: No matter how quickly and deeply relations between two countries take a nose dive, communication channels always remain open between diplomats and intelligence officers.

That was the case with Turkish-Israeli relations. It was no secret that communication lines were kept open between the two countries’ diplomats, while it would be a fair bet to assume that the same was valid for the intelligence quarters, though in a much more restricted and limited way.

Actually, it was the deeply-rooted relations and cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence and military officials that provided the backbone of the honeymoon in Israeli-Turkish relations in the 1990s. But for that you have to have an overlapping of strategic interests, or at least your strategic interests should not be in conflict. Yet by 2010 the two countries came to the brink of a hot conflict; Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli soldiers.

Interestingly, the Mavi Marmara incident took place a few days after Hakan Fidan was appointed to head the MİT, Turkey’s intelligence agency. And after the Mavi Marmara incident the Israeli press reported how their intelligence and military establishment was concerned by this appointment, like the Haaretz report in June 2010.

Channels between diplomats and intelligence officers remain open because usually they represent the “deep state.” They serve the state, not a government or an ideology. Fidan, a name close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a figure who assumed official positions with the advent of the AKP to the government, was not seen as a figure of the “secular establishment” that prevailed during the republic’s entire history. In short, in the view of Israelis an Islamist had come to the head of their main interlocutor in state-to-state relations. 

In 2013 the Washington Post wrote that Fidan had passed sensitive information to Iran which blew the cover off an Israeli spy ring working inside Iran in early 2012 and dealt a significant blow to Israeli intelligence gathering. The Turkish sources at that time blamed Israel for being behind the story as part of a smear campaign.

For the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) these details might not carry any importance. I am inclined to believe that the deadly attack staged on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on June 28 was this vicious organization’s retaliation to Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel. On the one hand this could represent an ideological reaction since in ISIL’s view Turkey reconciled with the arch enemy of “Islam.” On the other hand this could also be seen as a preemptive strike against possible cooperation between Turkish and Israeli intelligence against ISIL.

Let’s face it; ISIL attacks aimed at touristic targets came after the Turkish government tightened its grip on ISIL - both by bombing ISIL in Syria and going after its followers within Turkey. “If you come after me, you’ll pay the cost,” ISIL says.

Some might argue that such attacks take time to plan and that it took place only hours after the statement that the Turkish-Israeli deal had been finalized. This view can be discarded because one need not be an expert to see that a deal was coming. 

At any rate ISIL has plenty of other reasons to continue its attacks against Turkey. And perhaps this latest one, if indeed it was staged by ISIL, did not have to do with Israel.

After all, the Turkish-Israeli deal is still fragile and it is not certain whether there will be genuine cooperation at all levels. Would Mossad for instance share sensitive intelligence with an MİT which is still headed by Fidan?