Official says Mossad, local intel foiled 3 Iran plots to attack Israelis in Istanbul

Israeli security source briefing reporters notes situation stabilizing in Turkey but predicts travel warning will remain in place for now as Iranian agents remain at large

Turkish authorities arrest an alleged Iranian cell that sought to target Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screen capture/CNN Turkey)
Turkish authorities arrest an alleged Iranian cell that sought to target Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screen capture/CNN Turkey)

The Mossad spy agency and its local counterparts managed to thwart three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul in recent days, a senior security official briefing Hebrew media said Friday, after Iran dismissed Jerusalem’s warnings of a Tehran-directed plot as malarkey.

The account came a day after Turkish media reported that 10 people had been arrested as part of an Iranian plot targeting Israelis in Turkey, including a former ambassador.

Jerusalem earlier this month imposed a travel warning against its citizens flying to Turkey after receiving significant intelligence 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.

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 wife. The 10 were arrested Thursday, the official said.

Israel’s Mossad spy agency chartered private aircraft to immediately bring the pair and others in Istanbul back to the country, Hebrew reports said. The name of the diplomat has not yet been released.

According to the official, the Mossad managed to thwart two other plots against Israelis in Istanbul in recent days as well, with the tourists escaping the country at the “last possible second.”

He said the raids were carried out in coordination with Turkish authorities, thanking them for their efforts in thwarting Iranian attacks to date.

A Channel 12 report Friday night said the two other plots were directed against Israelis in an Istanbul market and in city hotels. It said Iranians and Turkish nationals were among those arrested.

The reports came hours after Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Israeli claims that Tehran is targeting Israelis in Turkey are “baseless” and part of a “pre-designed scenario to destroy relations between the two Muslim countries.”

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman responded on Twitter: “For several weeks now, Iranian terrorist cells have been trying to assassinate innocent Israelis on Turkish soil at the direction of Iran’s terrorist government.”

Despite the raid Thursday, Israel has left the terror warning in place, though officials have indicated it may be walked back soon. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Thursday that Jerusalem and Ankara were aiming to lower the Israeli travel warning before the peak summer travel season. He was speaking during a visit to Ankara for talks with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The source said that risks remained, though the hotel raid had lowered the threat facing Israelis in Turkey somewhat.

Turkish authorities arrest an alleged Iranian cell that sought to target Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screen capture/CNN Turkey)

“We are on the right path, and it may be the beginning of the end, but the incident is not over. We have not removed the entire threat,” the senior security official said. “Iranian terrorists remain at large in Turkey. There is more than one cell. We are not going back to normal or lowering the travel warning.”

The source added that the Turkish authorities have kept Israel up to speed on developments, notifying Jerusalem ahead of time that local media would be publicizing the latest raid on Thursday.

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.

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)

On Thursday, Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which also handles operations outside of the country, announced that it was replacing the head of its intelligence unit Hossein Taeb, who had held the position for over a decade.

Taeb has been repeatedly named in Hebrew media reports as the man behind the planned attacks on Israelis in Turkey.

Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami appointed General Mohammad Kazemi to head the intelligence organization instead, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported.

Friday’s Channel 12 report said Israel is concerned not only about the ongoing threat to Israelis in Turkey, but also fears Iranian efforts to target Israeli legations elsewhere, and/or to target Israel itself with drone attacks.

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