Don’t Travel to Turkey, Israel Warns Citizens Amid Alleged Threat From Iran
Yair Lapid’s warning came during a meeting of his party Yesh Atid.
Later on Monday, Israel’s National Security Council raised its travel warning to the Turkish capital, Istanbul, to Level 4, the highest level. Other parts of the country remain at a level 3 warning, under which the NSC recommends that Israelis avoid non-essential travel. The NSC in a statement called on Israelis currently in Istanbul “to leave the city at the earliest opportunity, and on Israelis planning to travel to Turkey to avoid doing so until further notice.”
The warnings come following reports that Israeli and Turkish authorities thwarted attempts by Iran to target Israeli officials and civilians in Turkey.
Israeli media reported on Sunday that Israel foiled the alleged Iranian plans last month after alerting Turkey that operatives were planning to kidnap or attack Israeli citizens inside Turkish territory.
Yusuf Erim, chief political analyst and editor-at-large for Turkish public broadcaster TRT World, told The Media Line that Israelis should always be on guard and “exercise caution when traveling to areas that are within the reach of Iranian intelligence.”
Erim explains that the recent developments aren’t new, as Tehran operatives frequently look for Israeli targets in Turkey and other places in the region.
“Iran has constantly displayed that its willing to engage in targeted assassinations and acts of terror against civilians, so any threats should be considered as credible,” he said.
According to Israeli media reports, Turkish intelligence uncovered a network of Iranian agents who were planning to strike Israeli targets in Turkey, and that the Iranian network has been active in Turkey for more than a month.
“Turkish intelligence closely tracks Iranian activity inside the country and has been very successful in bringing down Tehran’s networks with many recent arrests,” according to Erim.
The threats have been uncovered following the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) officer Hassan Sayad Khodayari on May 25 by unknown assailants in Tehran. The Islamic Republic has accused Israel of being behind his killing.
Khodayari was the most high-profile killing inside the Islamic Republic since the November 2020 murder of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran accused Israel of being behind.
Another killing in the shadow war between the two countries was Col. Ali Esmailzadeh of the elite Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who also died in mysterious circumstances in Iran last month, dealing a huge blow to the IRGC.
Meanwhile, Israel has not acknowledged or taken responsibility for attacks on Iranian scientists and military officers on its soil, out of fear of retaliation.
The alleged Iranian plot may be a response to the assassination of a senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last week, which Iran attributed to Israel.
Last month, Israel warned its nationals against a possible Iranian attack in Turkey urging its citizens to not travel there.
Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, an expert on Turkey at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told The Media Line that there has been little coverage of the news of the planned Iranian attacks in Turkey.
Yanarocak says this is intentional.
“It seems to me a deliberate act. Turkey seeks not to turn this issue into a diplomatic crisis with Iran. Instead, in my opinion, Ankara is interested in solving this issue behind closed doors,” he said.
He argues that officials in Tehran are concerned about the recent warming of ties between Turkey and Israel, and this may have played a part in the alleged increased Iranian activities in neighboring Turkey.
“I think the news is credible. Apart from getting revenge on Israel, Iran seeks to destroy the Israeli-Turkish reconciliation,” Yanarocak said.
“The rapprochement process between Turkey and Israel has greatly bothered Iran, so any actions they could take to drive a wedge between both countries or sidetrack the process would be a geopolitical interest for them,” Erim said.
He says that reconciliation between Turkey and Israel has boosted “intelligence sharing between the Middle East’s two premier intelligence services further foiling Tehran’s regional clandestine activities.”
Turkey is a popular destination for Israeli tourists, with more than 30 weekly flights to Istanbul.