Skip to main content

How does Israeli intelligence recruit operatives in Turkey?

Israel uses wide range methods to cultivate spies in Turkey to chiefly target Palestinian and Middle Eastern nationals
Israeli officers usually use cryptocurrency and hawala, an informal method of transferring money through dealers such as jewellery stores and money exchanges, to conceal the payment’s point of origin (AFP/file photo)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkish intelligence officials this week revealed how Israeli officers conduct recruitment efforts inside Turkey and how the individuals they hire operate. 

The briefing, which was made on condition of anonymity to the media, including Middle East Eye, came after Turkish intelligence, in a joint operation with the police, on Tuesday detained 34 mostly foreign individuals allegedly spying for the Israeli secret services.

Turkish authorities believe an additional 12 individuals, who remain at large, have likely already left the country. 

This is the fourth Turkish counter-intelligence operation against the network of informants and operatives that are associated with Israel’s intelligence services, such as the Shin Bet and Mossad, since 2021. 

The intelligence officials say there are two groups of people the Israelis work with. The initial group undertakes simple missions while the second group operates on more tactical levels. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


The first level of recruitment efforts targets individuals for basic surveillance tasks through intermediaries and online platforms. 

Turkish intelligence officials say Israeli intelligence usually posts job announcements online with few or no details, or posts links on social media platforms and chat groups to pick suitable individuals to contact them. The tasks could appear generally unrelated, but designed to prepare the operatives for an ultimate mission. 

Turkey: Police arrest 33 alleged Mossad spies in nationwide sweep
Read More »

For example, Ahmet S, who was arrested by the police in an operation in 2022, told a court in Istanbul last year that he called the number in an advertisement that said "looking for an employee who speaks Arabic and Turkish", and the person on the other end pointed him to WhatsApp groups and tasked him to translate daily, from Turkish to Arabic, certain topics in this group.

The Israeli officers don’t contact these individuals in person, but only communicate with them in writing and only through messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.

They pay the recruits through intermediaries or by messengers who are also recruited through the internet with social media employment posts.

The recruits are told that the money they are paid is linked to illegal betting and gambling.

The Israeli officers usually use cryptocurrency and hawala, an informal method of transferring money through dealers such as jewellery stores and money exchanges, to conceal the payment’s point of origin. 

'Tactical recruits'

As the Israeli intelligence officer maintains a working relationship that builds confidence and trust with the operatives, they could move to a tactical level, where the operative is asked to conduct more sophisticated operations.

In some cases, they build a more direct relationship with the recruits, such as meeting in person and paying them a substantial amount of money. The recruits are also asked to pass a polygraph test. 

The operatives are initially asked to carry out piecemeal tasks to create an action plan toward the actual targets.

For example, Israel has successfully hired a group of private detectives in Turkey who have targeted certain individuals of interest by gathering personal information, research, filming and taking photos of the targets, surveillance and placing GPS devices on cars or vehicles. 

The Israeli handlers also pick some individuals among the group for more tactical roles.

War on Gaza: Turkey backs South Africa 'genocide' case against Israel at ICJ
Read More »

Those “tactical recruits” were entrusted to establish a Whatsapp group to manage the operation, establish and manage websites that could be used for the mission’s objectives, such as designing an online newspaper to disseminate disinformation and fake news, and making money transfers.

Instructions have included assault against targeted individuals, or robbery and arson. 

The Israeli intelligence meets the “tactical recruits” they believe have the necessary skill set, based on past operations, to avoid being targeted by the Turkish intelligence. 

To ensure that they do not feel like they are betraying their country, the recruits are offered psychological support and comfort through large sums of money and perks, the Turkish officials add. 

The successful recruits are called for special meetings abroad, and they are hosted at luxury hotels and restaurants as rewards.

For example, an Al Jazeera documentary last year indicated that a Palestinian student who was recruited for tactical operations by Israeli intelligence had been given a visa by the Swiss consulate-general in Istanbul in less than an hour without any application. 

Training an operative

Official testimony by private detective Selcuk Kucukkaya, who admitted to working for Israeli secret services in return for a reduction of prison sentence in a separate case, confirmed how Israeli intelligence works its recruits. 

Kucukkaya told Turkish investigators in September that he had met the Israeli officers in 10 cities in Europe a total of 11 times between 2018 and 2022. 

'I forwarded my report to Jorge by e-mail. I asked for 1,000 euros. He said that he liked the report and wanted to meet face to face'

- Selcuk Kucukkaya

Kucukkaya said he was first contacted by someone called Serkan in 2018, and asked to do work for an insurance company. He was then put in contact with someone called Jorge through Skype. 

“He sent three restaurant names. He told me to choose one of them, research its commercial activities, take indoor and outdoor pictures, and that he would compare the information he had with the information I had,” Kucukkaya said.

“I forwarded my report to Jorge by e-mail. I asked for 1,000 euros. He said that he liked the report and wanted to meet face to face.”

Kucukkaya said he started to meet Jorge and his manager Alfonso in Europe, getting instructions for a second job and reporting on the information he had gathered on Iranian, Lebanese and Arab nationals. He was paid in cash in those meetings. 

In December 2018, he met his handlers in Copenhagen and took a polygraph test to determine whether he was working for the Turkish state.

The following year, the handlers installed a decryption software on his computer in Belgium to communicate via encrypted email. 

Turkey at 100: Will Ankara move closer to Russia or the US?
Read More »

Kucukkaya also said that in July 2020 he was asked to track a Palestinian citizen called M. al-Mahmoud from his arrival at Istanbul airport from Beirut to his final destination in the city.

The surveillance report would have to include whether the Palestinian national had a team to pick him up, or had an armed security guard.

Kucukkaya was also tasked with hiring a team and advised to use at least three cars and a motorcycle for the mission so to not lose the target and remain undetected. The aim was to find out weak points in the route taken by the Palestinian national to conduct a possible attack against him in the future.  

Turkish intelligence also claims that people like Kucukkaya were provided with specially designed bags with secret compartments that could pass X-ray detectors and K-9 searches without detection.

They are also trained on surveillance, photo documentation, casing, reporting and operational security during meetings abroad.

“The Israeli intelligence service has such individuals make preparations for the most important aspects of potential operations like human trafficking and smuggling from Iran and Iraq to Turkey, hiring hackers, finding safe houses, and hiring ambulance-operating companies to be used in operations,” the officials added.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.