For Israel, Turkish President Erdoğan’s removal of Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, who is considered an ‘agent’ for Iran & an obstacle in the reconciliation talks with Jerusalem, is a positive development.
By Itamar Eichner
Two recent political developments in Turkey could mark the successful end of Ankara’s reconciliation talks with Israel.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently decided to remove the head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, from his post, and make him Anakara’s ambassador to Japan instead. At the same time, the Turkish president also decided that Turkey’s Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu, would be be appointed Ankara’s ambassador to the UN.
Israel and Turkey have been holding talks on normalizing ties after a 2010 IDF raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla trying to break the blockade on Gaza, left 10 Turkish citizens dead.
For Israel, Fidan’s removal from Turkish intelligence agency MiT after six years is a positive development, while the removal of Sinirlioğlu, the chief negotiator for reconciliation talks with Israel, from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a negative one.
Fidan, a shadow figure, is Erdoğan’s close confidant. Israeli officials view him as an “agent” working on behalf of Iran and quite a few of them considered him the main obstacle to normalizing ties with Turkey.
In June 2013, it was reported that Fidan met with his counterpart, then-Mossad head Tamir Pardo, in Ankara to discuss the threats posed by Iran and ISIS. In October 2013, meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Fidan passed on information to the Iranians about an Israeli spy network operating inside the Islamic Republic.
Diplomatic officials who are involved with the Israel-Turkey reconciliation talks said that Fidan’s removal from the key post is a positive sign that could indicate Erdoğan’s desire to normalize ties with Israel.
Turkish media reported that Erdoğan is planning on replacing Fidan with former colonel Mustafa Levent Göktaş, a surprising appointment as Göktaş spent five years in prison following a wave of arrests of senior Turkish military officers, led by Erdoğan himself.
Göktaş took part in the 1999 operation to capture Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and has recently said in a TV interview that if he is made the head of Turkish intelligence, he will eliminate the Kurdish and ISIS columns in the country within a year.
The removal of Turkey’s token moderate, Feridun Hadi Sinirlioğlu, from the Foreign Ministry is just as surprising. Sinirlioğlu is the most senior Turkish diplomat, who served in the past as an ambassador to Israel, which made him a natural choice to lead reconciliation talks with Jerusalem. Sinirlioğlu also recently served as acting-foreign minister during the recent cabinet shuffle in Turkey.
Some commentators noted that the decision to send Sinirlioğlu to the UN could mark the end of reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel. These negotiations were Sinirlioğlu’s “baby” and it is likely that Erdoğan, who recently expressed his desire to normalize ties with Israel on several occasions, would not remove the man who led the talks with Jerusalem from his post without being certain these negotiations have been completed.
The two’s removal from their posts could also have to do with the fact they were seen as affiliated with former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who had to resign after clashing with Erdoğan.
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