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Amid threat of Iranian attacks, Lapid lands in Turkey for security talks

Upon foreign minister’s arrival, Turkey says it arrested Iranians who attempted to kidnap Israelis; Lapid and Cavusoglu may discuss resuming ambassadorial representation

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) meets with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Ankara on June 23, 2022. (Boaz Oppenheim/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) meets with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Ankara on June 23, 2022. (Boaz Oppenheim/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid landed in Ankara on Thursday and was scheduled to meet with his Turkish counterpart amid growing threats of attacks carried out by Iran against Israeli tourists.

Accompanied by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, Lapid and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu are slated to discuss cooperation on thwarting Iranian attempts to harm Israeli travelers in Turkey, as revenge for the killing of Iranian officers inside Iran, allegedly by Israel. The pair spoke via phone last week about joint efforts to thwart such Iranian attacks.

There is also speculation that the sides may discuss resuming ambassadorial representation in each other’s capitals.

Lapid decided not to cancel the trip despite the political turmoil at home that is expected to make him caretaker prime minister next week.

On Monday, outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid announced that they would begin the process of dissolving the Knesset. After the coalition passes the remaining votes necessary to disperse the Knesset, Lapid, who also served as alternate prime minister under Bennett’s coalition, is set to serve as interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in after general elections are held, possibly in November.

Citing sources close to Lapid, Haaretz said Lapid’s trip to Turkey was seen as another step in strengthening the relations between the countries. And the fact that he might soon become Israel’s next premier might add increased importance to the visit, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been trying to rekindle his country’s once-warm relations with the Jewish state.

Israel, on the other hand, has remained cautious about Erdogan’s willingness to strengthen ties, according to government sources cited by Haaretz.

The unnamed sources told the Israeli newspaper that Israel is concerned about Erdoğan’s instability and said that Israel was weighing its options carefully.

Nonetheless, Israel and Turkey have launched an unprecedented joint effort to foil Iranian attacks against Israelis within Turkish territory.

Shortly before Lapid’s arrival in Ankara, Turkey said it detained eight people allegedly working for an Iranian intelligence cell that planned to assassinate or snatch Israeli tourists in Istanbul, according to local media.

Among those who were being targeted for kidnapping were reportedly a former Israeli diplomat and his wife.

It was the first time that Turkish media has reported on the subject that has been making headlines in Israel for two weeks amid warnings from officials of Iranian cells on the loose in Turkey.

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

On Monday, outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was “working closely with Turkish officials to thwart attempts to strike Israelis and Jews,” adding that “cooperation between Turkey and Israel is tight and is being carried out on all levels,” he said.

Israel has issued a series of repeated severe warnings to Israeli travelers in recent weeks to avoid visiting Turkey and said it has foiled attempted attacks with the help of Turkish authorities.

There are currently believed to be some 2,000 Israelis in Turkey. On Sunday, Channel 12 news reported that fewer Israelis were heading to the country, without providing updated figures or sources.

The warning followed reports indicating that the Iranians have been planning attacks for months, apparently in revenge for the slayings of senior officers and others blamed on Israel.

In late May, senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was gunned down 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.

Khodaei’s assassination was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

AFP contributed to this report.

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