After Cyprus plot, Israel vows to thwart Iran terror ‘wherever it raises its head’

PM’s office says Israel operates widely and ‘in every place to protect Jews and Israelis,’ after Nicosia foils alleged Iranian-planned terror op in island nation

File: A Cyprus police van carrying an Azeri national suspected of taking part in an alleged plot to attack Israelis on the Mediterranean island is pictured outside the criminal court in the capital Nicosia, on December 6, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)
File: A Cyprus police van carrying an Azeri national suspected of taking part in an alleged plot to attack Israelis on the Mediterranean island is pictured outside the criminal court in the capital Nicosia, on December 6, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

Israel formally acknowledged on Sunday evening that an Iranian-planned terror attack targeting Israeli and Jewish targets in Cyprus was foiled recently, and warned that its operatives would continue thwarting “Iranian terrorism wherever it raises its head,” including in Iran.

Cypriot media reported the suspected terror plot earlier Sunday, believed to be linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian army that is considered a terror organization by several countries, including the United States.

The Phile News website said the plot was thwarted by Cypriot intelligence services, in cooperation with other foreign agencies, said to be from Israel and the US.

On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a press statement that said: “The State of Israel operates using a wide variety of methods in every place to protect Jews and Israelis, and will continue to act to destroy Iranian terrorism wherever it raises its head, including on Iranian soil.”

The statement said Israel “welcomes” the operation to foil the terror plot and accused Tehran of being the world’s chief “distributor” of terror.

Israel’s National Security Council warned earlier this year that Cyprus and Greece are countries where Iran is likely to target Jews and Israelis. The countries are popular destinations for Israeli tourists, in addition to having relatively sizable expat communities.

Illustrative: A couple takes photos with a sea view at the resort of Ayia Napa in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on June 6, 2023. (AP/Petros Karadjias)

In March, Greek police arrested two Pakistani nationals who were allegedly planning mass-casualty terrorist attacks on behalf of Iran against Israeli and Jewish targets in the country. The Mossad, which aided the Greek investigation, said in a statement that the two were part of an Iranian terror network.

A Greek government official told The Associated Press at the time that one of the targets was a kosher restaurant in central Athens, which is part of a Chabad House in the capital. Other reports indicated the target was the Chabad House itself.

On Sunday, Cypriot media said the suspected attackers in the new foiled plot were using the northern part of the island as a staging post for the potential attack and that Cypriot intelligence services had closely followed the cell for a number of months.

Israel’s Hebrew-language media speculated that the potential targets in Cyprus may have been also been a Chabad House or a kosher restaurant. Channel 13 reported, without citing sources, that officials in Israel were assessing whether the plot could have involved an assassination of an Israeli business person — similar to a foiled 2021 plot — or the killings of Israeli tourists.

An unnamed Cypriot official told the Phile News website that the foiling of the plot showed that Cyprus would not allow its own territorial conflict to create a “security breach” through which attacks can be carried out.

A man holding an umbrella walks past a Jewish restaurant that Greek officials believe was one of the targets of a planned terrorist attack, in central Athens, March 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when the Turkish army invaded the northern third of the island in response to a coup that had sought to unite the entire island with Greece. The rule of the north’s leader is recognized only by Turkey.

In October 2021, Israel said that an Iranian plot against Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus had been foiled. According to reports, the hired killer was of Azeri origin and had arrived in Cyprus on a flight from Russia, using a Russian passport.

Landing in Larnaca on the Cypriot southern side of the island, he was said to have made his way to the Turkish-controlled city of Paralimni in the north, where he rented a room and two vehicles. He reportedly crossed the Turkish-Cypriot border back and forth a number of times on a bike.

Cyprus charged six people in the plot, including the main suspect and three Pakistani nationals.

Iranian plots against Israelis have also been foiled in several other countries over the past year.

In November, Georgian security officials foiled an attempt by a Pakistani citizen to murder an Israeli in Georgia on orders from an Iranian operative.

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

Last summer, Turkish forces stymied an attempt by Iranian agents to kill Israelis in Istanbul, arresting three men. The news came a month after the Mossad spy agency and its local counterparts managed to thwart three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul. Iran denied the allegations.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a decades-long shadow war across the Middle East and beyond.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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