Israel moves towards easing travel warning for Turkey, though threat remains

Israel may withdraw an extraordinary warning to its citizens from Turkey last week after an apparent foiled Iranian plot to kidnap or murder Israelis in Istanbul, reports Sunday said.

The Israeli travel warning has been in effect since June 13, urging citizens to avoid travel to Istanbul for any reason and unnecessary travel to other parts of Turkey. Officials in both countries recently said they are aiming for the restriction to be lifted 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 stands due to unspecified bureaucracy, citing an unnamed source.

The claim has not been verified, and although Israeli officials have pointed out that the recent arrest of Iranian agents accused of conspiring against Israelis has reduced the level of danger, Turkey still isn’t completely safe for Israeli tourists, and it is not known if there are any elements of it The warning remains.

Officially, the government said in a statement on Sunday that the warning remains unchanged but hopes to change its instructions soon so Israelis can travel to the popular destination “without fear”.

It was not clear if the delay in lifting the warning was related to Israel’s own domestic political turmoil; Travel warnings are being issued by the counter-terrorism office in the prime minister’s office, which is being transitioned from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is due to take over as prime minister sometime in the coming days.

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

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

Turkish authorities arrested a suspected Iranian cell planning to attack Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screenshot/CNN Turkey)

A top security official briefing Hebrew media on Friday said Mossad and local counterparts had foiled three Iranian attacks on Israeli civilians in Istanbul in recent days.

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

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

According to the official, the Mossad also managed to thwart two other attacks against Israelis in Istanbul in recent days, with tourists leaving the country at “the last possible second”.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denied Jerusalem’s warnings of a Tehran-led plot in Turkey, calling the claims “baseless” and part of a “pre-conceived scenario designed to destroy ties between the two Muslim countries.”

A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry tweeted: “For several weeks, Iranian terrorist cells have been attempting to murder innocent Israelis on Turkish soil on the instructions of the Iranian terrorist government.”

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

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

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

On Thursday, Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which also conducts operations outside the country, announced that it will replace the head of its intelligence unit, Hossein Taeb, who held the position for over a decade.

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

The commander of the guards, Major General Hossein Salami, instead appointed General Mohammad Kazemi to head the intelligence unit, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported.

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