ANKARA, (AFP) – Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest after Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak described its new spy chief as a “supporter” of Iran, a Turkish diplomat said Tuesday.
Ambassador Gaby Levy was called in Monday to a meeting where Deputy Undersecretary Halit Cevik conveyed Ankara’s displeasure over the comments, the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli embassy in Ankara was not immediately available for comment.
Israel’s army radio reported on Sunday that Barak had expressed concern that Ankara could pass secret information to Israel’s arch-foe Iran because its new intelligence chief supported the Islamic Republic.
“Turkey is a friendly country, a strategic ally, but the nomination in recent weeks of a new chief of the Turkish secret services who is a supporter of Iran worries us,” he told a meeting of his centre-left Labour party.
In a recording of his remarks broadcast by the army radio, Barak said the appointment could result in “the Iranians having access to secret information.”
Turkey appointed Hakan Fidan, 42, as the head of the National Intelligence Organisation, known by its Turkish acronym MIT, on May 27 after he served as undersecretary for foreign affairs to the prime minister and represented Turkey at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The latter position placed him at the forefront of Turkey’s efforts to resolve the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme, according to the Turkish press.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, views Iran as its greatest strategic threat because of Tehran’s atomic programme — which it believes is aimed at developing weapons — and the frequent predictions of the demise of the Jewish state by Iran’s leaders.
Turkey’s efforts for a peaceful resolution to the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme, especially a May 17 deal committing Iran to send some its uranium stockpile to Turkey in exchange for nuclear fuel, has raised suspicions in the Jewish state.
The deal was cold-shouldered by world powers, which backed a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran on June 9 over its refusal to halt its controversial uranium enrichment programme.
Turkey, which holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, voted against the sanctions in a move which strengthened concerns that it was deviating from its traditional pro-Western path and turning East.
The “no” vote came amid a deep crisis in once-strong Turkish-Israeli ties triggered by an Israeli raid on Gaza-bound aid ships on May 31 which killed nine Turks.
After the raid, an infuriated Ankara recalled its ambassador from Israel after and cancelled three planned joint military exercises with the Jewish state.
Turkey says Israel must apologise for the raid, pay compensation for the victims and lift the blockade of Gaza for bilateral ties to recover.
On Monday UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of a four-member panel, including a Turk and an Israeli, to investigate the raid, a move that Turkey welcome as an important step.