Lapid decided to visit Turkey amid efforts to counter Iranian attacks on Israelis there

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will leave Thursday for a short trip to Turkey amid serious concerns that Iran is plotting to harm Israeli travelers to the nation.

Lapid will meet Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during his visit, the foreign minister’s office said on Sunday, just days after the couple spoke on the phone about their joint efforts to counter such Iranian attacks.

In recent weeks, Israel has issued a series of repeated severe warnings to Israeli travelers to avoid visiting Turkey and claimed to have foiled attack attempts with the help of Turkish authorities. Ankara, meanwhile, has tried to debunk the notion that it is a dangerous place to visit and has angered the Israeli warnings.

Lapid and Cavusoglu recently met face to face in late May, when the Turkish foreign minister made a revolutionary visit to the Jewish state. His trip was the first visit to Israel by a senior Turkish official in about 15 years, as Turkey’s relations with Israel continued to thaw after a long period of hostility.

Cavusoglu spoke on Sunday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, according to Iranian agency Mehr News. The report stated that Cavusoglu expressed a desire to “improve bilateral relations and increase mutual cooperation” with Tehran.

News of Lapid’s upcoming trip came just hours after President Isaac Herzog spoke on the phone with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss ongoing security coordination.

According to a statement by Herzog’s spokesperson, the president thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s efforts to protect Israeli travelers and stressed “that the threat has not yet passed and that counter-terrorism efforts must continue”.

Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul / AFP)

The two leaders stressed “the great contribution of this cooperation to the trust that is being built between governments and nations”, according to the statement, and agreed to keep the channels of dialogue open.

Since the beginning of last week, Israeli officials have issued urgent warnings that Iranian terror cells are seeking to avenge the killing of a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer in May by targeting Israelis in Turkey.

On Friday, senior Israeli officials warned that there were “concrete” threats that Iran was trying to carry out a terrorist attack on Israelis in Istanbul over the weekend and urged all citizens to leave Turkey immediately. He also instructed those who remained in the city to stay in their hotels.

The warnings came amid unverified reports in the Jewish press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had already jointly foiled several planned attacks by a large network of Iranian agents, capturing some of the suspects.

There are currently believed to be around 2,000 Israelis in Turkey. On Sunday, Channel 12 reported that fewer Israelis were making their way to the country, without providing updated data or sources.

Channel 12 cited officials as saying Israeli agents were in Turkey working side-by-side with their Turkish counterparts in an effort to thwart the attacks, noting that there was excellent cooperation with local officials.

According to the report, Iranians have been planning attacks for months, apparently in revenge for the killing of senior officers and others attributed to Israel.

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

In late May, high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot dead outside his home in Tehran. An unnamed US intelligence official told the New York Times that Israel told Washington it had carried out the attack, which Israel has not confirmed.

The assassination of Khodaei was the highest-profile murder in Iran since the November 2020 killing of famed nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Sunday’s phone call is the fourth time Herzog and Erdogan have spoken on the phone since the Israeli president visited Turkey in March amid ties that are gradually warming.

Most recently, Herzog wished Erdogan and the Turkish people a happy Eid al-Fitr in early May, while Erdogan sent a congratulatory letter ahead of Israel’s Independence Day.

On April 19, amid the growing violence on the Temple Mount between Palestinians and Israeli police, Erdoğan called to express his “concern and pain” for the ongoing tensions.

During that phone call, Erdogan stressed the importance of preserving the religious status quo in the holy site of Jerusalem and said he was happy to hear Israel’s firm statements on maintaining it, according to a statement from Herzog’s office.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara on March 9, 2022. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Erdogan also called on April 1 to condemn a series of Palestinian terrorist attacks that resulted in the deaths of 11 people.

For over a decade, Turkey has been one of Israel’s harshest critics on the international stage. The anti-Israel rhetoric of senior officials, led by Erdogan, borders on apoplexy. Ankara has also taken actions that angered officials in Jerusalem, most notably by providing support and refuge to the Hamas terrorist group.

Over the past two years, however, Erdogan has taken a noticeably different tone towards Israel, expressing interest in improving ties with his former and possibly future ally.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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