US believes Iran was ‘directly involved’ in killing of Iranian dissident in Turkey

US Secretary of State Mike Pompe. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 April 2020

US believes Iran was ‘directly involved’ in killing of Iranian dissident in Turkey

  • Pompeo: “Another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts”

WASHINGTON: The United States believes Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in the killing of an Iranian dissident last November in Turkey, a senior administration official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019. Citing Turkish officials, Reuters last week reported that two intelligence officers in Iran’s consulate in Istanbul had instigated his killing.
“Given Iran’s history of targeted assassinations of Iranian dissidents and the methods used in Turkey, the United States government believes that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) was directly involved in Vardanjani’s killing,” a senior administration official told Reuters.
The United States had not previously disclosed its assessment on who might have been behind the incident.
A week after the killing, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had described it as “another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts” of Iranian dissidents. He had not elaborated further.
Late on Wednesday, Pompeo in a tweet said he found disturbing the reports that Iranian diplomats were involved in the killing of the dissident, but that they were “fully consistent” with their assignments.
“Iran’s ‘diplomats’ are agents of terror and have conducted multiple assassinations and bomb plots in Europe over the past decade,” Pompeo said.
A police report by the Turkish authorities into the killing, published two weeks ago, said Vardanjani had an “unusual profile.” It said he had worked in cybersecurity at Iran’s Defense Ministry and had become a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities.
Turkish authorities did not publicly accuse the Iranian government of involvement at the time, but the Turkish officials last week told Reuters that Ankara would now raise Vardanjani’s killing with Iran.
The US assessment comes amid its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, through which President Donald Trump aims to force Iran to limit its missile program and curb its use of proxy forces in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have remained high since Trump in 2018 unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
In recent weeks, the United States has repeatedly tightened sanctions on Iran, despite calls from Iranian authorities, the United Nations and China asking it to ease them as the Islamic Republic became the hardest-hit nation in the Middle East by the coronavirus pandemic.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.