Israel warns against travel to Turkey amid ‘real threat’ of Iranian revenge attack

National Security Council cites ‘growing concern’ that Iran may try to target Israelis following assassination of senior Revolutionary Guard officer in Tehran

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Istanbul's skyline, with the iconic Galata Tower, January 29, 2021. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)
Istanbul's skyline, with the iconic Galata Tower, January 29, 2021. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

Israel on Monday issued an updated travel warning for Turkey amid fears of an Iranian response to the assassination of a senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last week.

In an unusual move, the National Security Council explicitly identified “Iranian terrorist operatives” as being the source of the threat to Israelis in Turkey and nearby countries.

Former national security adviser Giora Eiland told Channel 12 news that this likely indicated that Israel was aware of a specific Iranian plot, rather than acting out of more general assessments.

Notably, however, the travel warning for Turkey remained at its same level, third of four, a “moderate threat,” with recommendations to avoid visiting the country for nonessential reasons. At level four, “high threat,” Israelis are explicitly told not to visit the country and to leave if they are already inside. Countries with this warning include Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran.

Last week, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot five times in his car by two unidentified gunmen on motorbikes in the middle of Tehran. He reportedly was involved in killings and abductions outside of Iran, including attempts to target Israelis.

Related: Iran blames ‘Zionists’ for killing officer, vows revenge; Israel boosts air defenses

“For several weeks now, and even more so since Iran blamed Israel for the death of the Revolutionary Guards officer last week, there has been growing concern in the defense establishment about Iranian attempts to harm Israeli targets around the world,” a statement from the National Security Council said.

The National Security Council said it was “sharpening” the travel warning to Turkey, stressing that the country and other nations bordering Iran pose “a high level of risk to Israelis these days.”

Security officials said the warnings follow “real threats to Israelis” in Turkey, which they did not specify.

“Recently a number of attempts have been made to harm businesspeople in the area and workers in the Israeli consulate,” the NSC said, without elaborating.

“Israeli citizens must remain vigilant and adhere to the necessary precautions when traveling to one of these countries,” it added.

This included recommending that Israelis keep emergency contact numbers handy, refrain from sharing information with foreigners about their military service, and avoid “accentuating their Israeli identity” in public.

Mourners gather around the coffin of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards colonel Sayyad Khodaei during a funeral procession at Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran, on May 24, 2022. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iranian authorities have yet to pin down the suspects in Khodaei’s killing, even though the incident took place in the heart of one of the most secure areas in Tehran — Mohahedin-e Eslam Street, home to other senior officials in the IRGC and its elite Quds Force.

Israel, which has not officially commented on the incident, reportedly raised the security alert level at its embassies and consulates around the world, fearing a retaliatory Iranian attack.

An unnamed intelligence official told the New York Times last week that Israel told US officials it was behind the assassination. A senior Israeli MK denied this.

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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