Israel will not hesitate to act on foreign soil to protect its citizens, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday, amid swirling warnings of an imminent Iranian plot against Israelis.
One Israeli man in the city reportedly told authorities that he had nearly been kidnapped but managed to escape, but others defiantly said they would remain in the popular tourist hotspot or refused to cancel plans to travel there.
“In recent days, we have witnessed attempts to harm Israelis in various destinations abroad,” Bennett said during a memorial ceremony for the victims of the First Lebanon War, in his first comments on the alleged attack plot.
Israeli authorities on Monday urged citizens to leave Istanbul immediately, and reconsider non-essential travel to other parts of Turkey, warning that Iranian agents were ready to kidnap or kill Israelis there as Tehran seeks revenge for the slayings of officers blamed on Israel.
“The State of Israel’s security forces are doing everything [in their power] to thwart these attacks and to neutralize the attackers and their operators,” the prime minister said. “We will not hesitate to use the power of the State of Israel anywhere in the world, for the protection of our citizens.”
Bennett spoke hours after the IDF issued a directive ordering all soldiers in Turkey to leave immediately. The army has also canceled any future permits allowing soldiers to visit or even take a connecting flight via one of Turkey’s airports.
Channel 12 reported that Israeli authorities were looking into a report from a citizen who said he was almost kidnapped while in Turkey. The kidnapper made physical contact with the person before he managed to flee at the last minute.
The claim is being investigated by both Israeli and Turkish authorities, who are already hunting for Iranian agents operating in the country, the network said Tuesday.
Israeli authorities have issued warnings to roughly 1,000 Israelis who were currently in Iran, asking them to leave immediately.
There was significant concern among the security establishment over the fact that some Israelis were still refusing to leave the country, Channel 12 said, without citing a source.
An Arab Israeli woman said she had no plans to leave, admitting that she felt comfortable in Turkey, given that she speaks Arabic.
“All the fear is coming from Israel. Here feels safe,” a woman on a trip to Istanbul told Channel 13 news.
Turkey insisted earlier in the day that it was a safe country and at the forefront of fighting terror.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said “some countries” had issued travel warnings — without mentioning Israel. It said the alerts were related to outside events and not connected to Turkey.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, some Israeli diplomats were bothered by the Turkish statement, which downplayed the level of danger and could cause Israelis to be less vigilant.
On Monday, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted an unnamed security official saying several Iranian “cells” were planning operations against Israeli tourists in Turkey.
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 intensified 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.