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Iranian plot in Turkey reportedly targeted Israel’s ex-consul to Istanbul

Yossi Levi-Sfari and his partner named in Turkish media as the targets of a foiled plan by Tehran to kidnap and murder them

A building in Istanbul where members of an alleged Iranian terror cell targeting Israelis were arrested in mid-June (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A building in Istanbul where members of an alleged Iranian terror cell targeting Israelis were arrested in mid-June (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Iranian plot to attack Israelis centered on targeting former Israel’s consul general to Istanbul Yossi Levi-Sfari, according to the Turkish Sabah news outlet.

According to the report, the Iranian attackers were staying in the same hotel as Levi-Sfari and his partner, Ronny Goldberg, and planned to kidnap and then execute the two men.

The Hurriyet Turkish site reported that the Mossad learned at the last minute that a handful of Iranian agents were staying in the hotel and worked together with local Turkish authorities to foil the attack and whisk Levi-Sfari and Goldberg back to Israel.

The IHA news outlet said that seven of the eight Iranian nationals arrested as part of the plot appeared in a Turkish courthouse on Thursday. The men were reportedly arrested with several pistols and silencers that were confiscated by Turkish police.

News of the foiled plot first broke in Turkish media a week ago, the same day that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — who became prime minister on Friday — landed in Ankara for a diplomatic visit.

According to senior Israeli officials, significant intelligence had indicated that Iran was seeking to carry out attacks against Israeli tourists in the country to avenge a series of killings and strikes on Iranian military and nuclear targets that have been attributed to the Jewish state.

A senior security official briefing Hebrew media earlier this month said that the Mossad and local counterparts thwarted three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul in recent weeks.

The security official said Mossad intelligence had led Turkish authorities to 10 members of an Iranian cell who were allegedly planning to kidnap and murder a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey and his partner.

In the wake of the arrests and Lapid’s visit, Israel on Tuesday lowered its security warning to Turkey to level 3, or moderate, after it had been at its highest level amid weeks of threats and warnings of imminent Israeli attacks.

The National Security Council warned that Iran’s motivation to carry out attacks remains high and that it assesses that “there are efforts to build infrastructure on the one hand and identify potential Israeli and Jewish targets on the other hand.”

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

Israelis are being asked to avoid publicizing details of upcoming trips to Turkey and photos while they are still in the country; to avoid wearing any clothes that could indicate they are from Israel and to refrain from giving personal details to and having unnecessary contact with strangers.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war but tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents Tehran has blamed on Israel.

The Islamic Republic claimed Israel was responsible for the killing of Revolutionary Guards Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei in his Tehran home on May 22. Khodaei’s assassination was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

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