Israel is moving towards easing Turkey’s travel warning, although the threat remains

Israel could withdraw an extraordinary advisory warning about its citizens away from Turkey last week, after an Iranian conspiracy to kidnap or kill Israelis in Istanbul was apparently thwarted, according to reports on Sunday.

The Israeli travel warning, which urged residents to avoid traveling to Istanbul for any reason and to avoid unnecessary travel to other parts of Turkey, has been in place since June 13. Officials in both countries recently indicated that they were trying to lift the restriction in time for the summer travel season.

Channel 12 news reported on Sunday that a decision to lift the warning had been made, but it remained in place due to unspecified bureaucracy, citing an unnamed source.

The claim could not be verified, and although Israeli officials have indicated that the recent arrest of Iranian agents accused of planning against Israelis has reduced the level of danger, Turkey is still not completely safe for Israeli tourists, and it is not known if elements of the warning will remain. place.

The government officially said in a statement on Sunday that the warning remains as it is, but that they hoped to be able to change their instructions soon so that Israelis would be able to travel to the popular destination “without fear”.

It was not clear whether the delay in the lifting of the warning was related to Israel’s own internal political turbulence; travel warnings are issued by the Counter-Terror Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, which is in transition from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will take over as Prime Minister sometime in the coming days.

Lapid issued the original warning hours before it was distributed in official channels, and has spearheaded Israel’s diplomatic approach to Turkey. During a visit to Ankara on Thursday, he said that Israel was seeking to lift the warning, which had threatened to lift the delicate resumption of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.

According to Lapid and other Israeli authorities, significant intelligence had indicated that Iran was trying to carry out attacks on Israeli tourists in the country in retaliation for a series of killings and attacks on Iranian military and nuclear targets attributed to the Jewish state.

Turkish authorities arrest an alleged Iranian cell that tried to target Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screenshot / CNN Turkey)

A senior security official who briefed the Hebrew media on Friday said that Mossad and local colleagues had prevented three Iranian attacks on Israeli civilians in Istanbul in recent days.

The security official said Mossad intelligence had led Turkish authorities to 10 members of an Iranian cell who allegedly planned to kidnap and assassinate a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey and his wife. The 10 were arrested on Thursday, the official said.

Israel’s spy agency Mossad chartered private jets to immediately bring the couple and others in Istanbul back to the country, Hebrew reports said. The name of the diplomat has not yet been released.

According to the official, Mossad managed to thwart two other conspiracies against Israelis in Istanbul in recent days as well, with the tourists fleeing the country in the “last possible second”.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denied Jerusalem’s warnings of a Tehran-directed conspiracy in Turkey, calling the allegations “baseless” and part of a “pre-designed scenario to destroy relations between the two Muslim countries.”

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry responded on Twitter: “For several weeks now, Iranian terrorist cells have been trying to assassinate innocent Israelis on Turkish soil at the behest of the Iranian terrorist government.”

Mourners gather around the coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Colonel Sayyad Khodaei during a funeral procession on Imam Hussein Square in the capital Tehran, May 24, 2022. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war, but tensions have risen following a series of high-profile incidents in which Tehran has blamed Israel.

The Islamic Republic claimed Israel was responsible for the assassination of Revolutionary Guardsman Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei at his home in Tehran on May 22. Khodaei’s assassination attempt was the most high-profile assassination in Iran since the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020.

On Thursday, Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which also handles operations outside the country, announced that they were replacing the head of its intelligence unit, Hossein Taeb, who held the post for more than a decade.

Taeb has repeatedly been identified in Hebrew media reports as the man behind the planned attacks on Israelis in Turkey.

Chief of Staff Major General Hossein Salami appointed General Mohammad Kazemi to head the intelligence unit instead, Iran’s news agency Tasnim reported.

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