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Israelis hide out in Istanbul hotels amid Iran attack warnings: ‘Why take the risk?’

But others visiting the city say they feel safe as Israel issues fresh call for its citizens in Turkey to immediately leave, citing ‘concrete’ Iranian threats

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

Numerous Israelis on Friday night heeded calls to shelter in their hotel rooms in Istanbul amid warnings that Iran was seeking to kill or kidnap Israeli nationals, while others said nothing appeared amiss there and that they were continuing their trips to Turkey as planned.

Senior Israeli officials warned earlier in the day of “concrete” threats that Iran was trying to launch a terror attack on Israelis in Istanbul this weekend, urging all citizens to leave Turkey immediately. They said those who could not leave should lock themselves in their hotel rooms.

“I’m very concerned, but I came here for a [medical] treatment that I cannot stop. I’m really scared, so I’m only eating in the room and am not going out. Why take the risk?” Etti Attias told the Ynet news site.

Attias, 55, said she would not have traveled to Turkey if not for the treatment.

“Even if there isn’t an attack, these aren’t things you play with,” she said. “I asked that when they take me to the clinic, that it not be in a car that looks like it’s for tourists.”

Attias said she was wearing a large face mask in public and “not speaking Hebrew at all.” She added that there were significant numbers of undercover Turkish police on the streets, which she said helped instill a sense of security.

People take a ride in a ferry crossing the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, Turkey, June 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Netanel Azoulay, 18, told the news site that he and a group of friends decided not to go out to a party in light of the warnings.

“For the moment we decided to close ourselves up in the room,” he said.

Azoulay, who has previously visited Turkey numerous times, said he felt the Israeli warnings were exaggerated but still decided to remain in the hotel room following the latest warnings.

“If we see the situation is calm and feel safe to walk around outside, we may still go out and spend time in clubs. In the meantime we invited some Israelis who we know to the room,” he said.

Like Attias, Azoulay said he felt that Turkish authorities were looking out for Israeli visitors.

“Of course, there are things that we don’t know and that can’t be revealed, but I personally don’t feel any concern here,” he added.

Other Israelis echoed that sentiment, while acknowledging they too were taking some precautionary measures.

“For us everything is normal, I don’t feel anything unordinary here,” a woman identified only by her first name Herut was quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

Herut said she was avoiding tourist destinations but insisted she does not look Israeli, which “plays to my benefit.”

People take pictures outside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, July 11, 2020. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Jacky Levy, who was returning home from Istanbul Friday evening, also told the network that he felt safe while in Turkey and decided not to shorten his trips, though said he did take some precautions while out in public.

The latest warnings came after a week in which Israel has urged its citizens in Turkey to immediately return home, and issued its highest possible security warning for Istanbul, over concerns that Iranian agents are planning to kill or kidnap Israelis.

The warnings came amid unverified reports in the press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had together already thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects.

There are currently believed to be some 2,000 Israelis in Turkey.

Channel 12 cited unnamed officials who said that Israeli agents were in Turkey working shoulder to shoulder with their Turkish counterparts in an effort to thwart the attacks, noting that there was excellent cooperation with local officials.

There is a “manhunt right now in the streets of Istanbul to stop an incident that has already gotten underway,” the report said.

“Being in Istanbul right now [for an Israeli] is akin to playing Russian roulette, tempting fate. If we could publicize the full operational picture, [Israelis] would be fleeing as they would a fire,” a senior official was reported as saying.

“We are in the midst of a rolling event in Istanbul,” a senior security official told Ynet. “Cells of Iranians and Turkish mercenaries are out searching for Israelis at any cost.”

According to the report, the Iranians have been planning attacks for months, apparently in revenge for the slayings of senior officers and others blamed on Israel.

Israeli officials warned that should Iran succeed in harming Israelis there would be a harsh response.

In this March 5, 2019, photo, a Turkish special police officer stands on a rooftop overlooking a plaza in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

Friday’s warnings came a day after Israel’s National Security Council issued rare, specific instructions to Israelis in Turkey, telling them not to open their hotel room doors for delivery people, not to post about their travel plans on social media, and not to go to the same tourist traps as all the other Israelis.

On Monday, the National Security Council raised the warning level for travel to Istanbul to its highest level, putting it alongside Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran as places that Israelis must leave immediately and may not visit.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month, a number of other deaths of security personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

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