Despite Iran threat and stern travel warning, Israelis still flying to Turkey

People at airport say it was too late to cancel their flights, while those already abroad say they feel secure

Illustrative: Travelers stand in line to check in at Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 13, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Travelers stand in line to check in at Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 13, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

Israelis vacationing in Turkey said they would not heed calls from Israel to return home immediately over fears that Iran is trying to carry out attacks against them, while tourists heading out to Turkey were ignoring a stern travel warning against visiting the country.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday called on Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately and for citizens to cancel travel plans to the country amid reports that an Iranian plot to assassinate Israelis in Istanbul was foiled at the last moment, and that Turkish authorities had uncovered a network of Iranian agents aiming to target Israelis.

“If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible,” Lapid said. “If you planned a trip to Istanbul — cancel it. No vacation is worth risking your lives for.”

Later, the National Security Council issued its most severe travel warning for Istanbul due to concerns of impending attacks, ordering Israelis out of the area.

Yet, Monday saw 21 flights carrying some 3,759 Israeli to Turkey, the Walla news site reported, including travelers transferring through the country. Israeli authorities have said it is still safe for Israelis to catch a connecting flight in Istanbul, as long as they remain in the airport.

A woman identified only as Susie was at the airport with her husband and three children for their trip to Turkey.

She explained they had bought the tickets before any of the recent warnings were issued. “Obviously it made us think twice, but we can’t cancel. There is always that fear abroad,” she told Walla.

“It is also dangerous in Israel,” another traveler told Channel 12 news.

An Army Radio report showed a long line of people waiting to check in to a flight to Istanbul.

Tourism Minister Yoel Rozvozov has asked airlines to refund Israelis who are heeding the warning and canceling their flights.

Israelis already in Turkey told media they feel safe and are not planning on leaving before the end of their vacation.

Nitza Levi, who was in Istanbul, took a fatalistic attitude, telling Channel 13 news, “We aren’t prophets, anything can happen.

“What is written in our future is written, and we need to believe that,” she said.

Levi said she had no worries about staying in the country and the other people on her trip were also enjoying their vacations.

Dismissing the warnings as an ongoing “fear campaign,” she said local Turks had assured her Iran would not dare to attempt an attack on Turkish soil.

“But we need to be careful, as we do in every place,” she conceded and added that Israelis in the country are sharing among themselves whatever news updates they have.

“I don’t plan to go back at the moment, only at the end of the trip,” she said and speculated that there is more concern in Israel about developments than there is in Turkey.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at the beginning of a faction meeting on June 13, 2022, warning Israelis not to travel to Turkey. (Screenshot/Tal Schneider)

Shirley Elisha, on her first trip to Istanbul, told Channel 13 she and her husband would not cut short their vacation and she would likely come back again in the future.

The area where she was staying “is full of tourists, mostly Israelis,” she said. While claiming she feels safe, Elisha said she would not upload photos or posts about her vacation to social media until the couple returns to Israel, “because you can’t know who is following us.”

The travel warning came after authorities in Turkey identified suspicious activity from actors who appeared to be planning attacks on Israelis in recent weeks, and passed information to their Israeli counterparts about the danger to Israeli nationals, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Channel 13 reported that several Israelis who were in Istanbul were quickly returned home last week by Israeli security officials who identified an Iranian plot to assassinate them.

According to the network, the government waited until Monday to warn the rest of the public about the imminent threat against Israelis in Turkey out of consideration for local authorities there, who wanted time to deal with the situation.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have heated in recent weeks, after the assassination of an Iranian officer in Tehran last month, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

Two weeks ago, Channel 12 reported that Israeli security officials called and directly warned more than 100 Israeli citizens in Turkey that they were in Iran’s crosshairs, asking them to return home.

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