Israelis in Istanbul were taken away while Iranian killers waited at the hotel – report

Several Israelis visiting Istanbul were reportedly taken out of Turkey last week by Israeli security officials, who were acting on intelligence proving visitors were at immediate risk of Iranian assassinations.

A woman visiting a market received a phone call from a senior Israeli official telling her not to return to her hotel because Iranian killers were waiting for her and her spouse, Channel 13 reported Monday.

Instead, a trailer with about 10 Israeli security officers took the couple to the airport, leaving their belongings at the hotel, and then to Israel, where they were investigated for clues into the plot against them, the network said.

No further details about the couple were revealed, including whether they were individually targeted for a specific reason or if they were being threatened just because they were Israelis. It was also unclear how many people had been contacted and told to leave immediately.

According to Channel 13, the government waited until Monday to warn the rest of the public of the impending threat against Israelis in Turkey, in consideration of the local authorities, who wanted time to address the situation. Israel on Monday issued its stricter travel warning to Istanbul over Iran’s attempts to attack Israeli travelers.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have flared up in recent weeks, following the assassination of an Iranian officer in Tehran last month, airstrikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria, menacing rhetoric from Iranian leaders, and escalating violations of nuclear agreements by Iran.

Two weeks ago, Channel 12 reported that Israeli security officials called and directly alerted more than 100 Israeli citizens in Turkey who were being targeted by Iran, asking them to return home.

Israel currently has no plans to send rescue flights for Israelis to Turkey, and many in the country have no plans to flee anyway, Channel 13 said. However, flight cancellations for travel planners are starting to pile up.

Bystanders look at a Costa Venezia cruise ship in Galataport Istanbul on 06 June 2022. (Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

Separately, news site Ynet reported Monday that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) recently arrested Iranian agents who were planning to carry out a shooting and kidnapping of Israeli tourists in Turkey.

The report does not quote a source, but an Israeli security official told Reuters that Turkey has arrested several people suspected of being agents of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Ynet said there may be other Iranian agents in general and that the pursuit by the authorities has not ended.

Turkish officials and the Iranian embassy in Ankara did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Israeli National Security Council on Monday issued the warning for Istanbul at level 4, the highest, which means that Israelis are explicitly told not to visit an area and to leave if they are already there. Countries with a level 4 “high threat” warning include Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran.

The authority said it raised the alert amid “the continuing threat and escalation of Iranian intentions to harm Israelis in Turkey, with an emphasis on Istanbul.” Other parts of Turkey remained at warning level 3, with recommendations to avoid visiting the country for non-essential reasons.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called on Israelis in Turkey to return immediately and citizens to cancel travel plans for the country.

Lapid’s statement at the start of a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party came after reports on Sunday said Israeli and Turkish security agencies had foiled an Iranian plot to kidnap Israeli tourists in Turkey last month.

Israeli security officials reportedly informed their Turkish counterparts of the plan and asked them to take action to counter the attack. Jewish media reports, citing anonymous high-level Israeli sources, did not specify the nationality of the alleged Iran agents, how many were involved or whether any arrests had been made.

Channel 12 said on Monday evening that “there are still Iranian cells in the area” and “ongoing cooperation between Mossad and Turkey. [security agencies]impressive cooperation, to counter this series of [potential] attacks “. The unprovided report also stated that there had been an unspecified number of arrests.

The National Security Council revised its travel warning for Turkey last month to level 3, stating that there was a real threat to Israelis from “Iranian terrorists” there and in neighboring countries.

That warning followed the assassination of a senior officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, whom Iran accused of Israel.

Mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, shown in the poster, who was killed on Sunday in Tehran, Iran, May 24, 2022. (Vahid Salemi / AP)

Khodaei was shot five times in his car by two unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in central Tehran on 22 May. He was reportedly involved in killings and kidnappings outside of Iran, including attempts to target Israelis.

While Israeli diplomatic missions were on high alert, expecting Iran to seek revenge for the assassination, Kan reported that the Iranian attempted action in Turkey occurred prior to the killing of the officer.

Shortly before Lapid made his remarks on Monday, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said that any “response” the Islamic Republic would give against Israel would take place within Israel.

“If we want to respond to Israel’s activities, our response will be given in its place and not in a third country,” said Saeed Khatibzadeh.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh speaks during a press conference in Tehran, March 14, 2022 (AFP)

Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi told the semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim on Monday that Iran “will take all necessary retaliatory measures in response to any external action from Iran. [the Israeli] regime. “

Since Khodaei was killed, another Quds Force officer – who oversees the IRGC’s overseas operations – has died under unclear circumstances, as well as an engineer at a military site and a scientist who would be involved in the development of missiles and drones.

According to Channel 12, Israel believes Iranians have a greater motivation to launch attacks on Israeli targets right now, with the IRGC seeking to restore deterrence both within its borders and abroad.

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