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Staying in Istanbul despite danger? Lock your door and keep quiet, Israel advises

NSC places emphasis on being cautious at hotels amid reports there are still Iranian agents at large in Turkish city, readying to carry out attacks

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)
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)

Don’t open your hotel room door for delivery people. Don’t post about your travel plans on social media. Don’t go to the same tourist traps as all the other Israelis.

These are just a few of the recommendations issued by Israeli officials Thursday for Israeli visitors to Istanbul who have refused to heed calls from Jerusalem to flee the city.

Israel this week has urged its citizens in Turkey to immediately return home 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 thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects.

In a communique published Thursday, the National Security Council called again for Israelis to leave Istanbul, where the terror warning is highest, but said it was offering advice for those who were remaining in the Turkish city despite the risk.

In addition to remaining constantly updated on the latest travel warnings and information from official sources, the council advised Israeli tourists in Turkey to keep their families at home informed of any planned trips and in particular with details of the hotel they are staying in.

Hotel rooms should be kept locked when inside and the door should not be opened to strangers who might be posing as staff or delivery people, the NSC said. Special attention should also be paid to any unusual activity in the lobby.

Israelis were advised to conceal outward signs of their nationality like Hebrew lettering or national symbols on clothing or luggage, and to “keep a low profile,” avoiding areas that are known to attract concentrations of Israeli tourists.

The NSC told Israelis to be wary of offers or invitations, such as organized trips, and in particular offers made on social media, that might be used as an opportunity for an attack.

Travel plans, itineraries, and lodgings should not be posted on social media either, the NSC said.

“Wait until after you return home to post updates like that,” the NSC said.

Any suspicious activities should be reported to the local police, the statement said, or in case of an emergency to an Israeli hotline on +972-25303155.

A man checks goods he has just bought in a market in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2022. (Francisco Seco)

Haaretz cited Israeli sources as saying that in the past few days several Iranian cells were caught by Turkish authorities. The sources said there are still Iranian teams at large in Turkey.

There have been several attacks thwarted in the past two weeks, some by Iranian agents and some by locals who were under Iranian direction, Channel 12 News reported without naming a source for the information. No arrests of Iranians or locals connected to any plots have been announced.

The channel quoted an Israeli woman who had just returned from Istanbul, who said she had exchanged phone numbers with a local man who offered to take her around and invited her for drinks, apparently leading her to believe the man was part of the Iranian assassination plot.

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.

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.

The authority said it raised the warning level amid “the continuing threat and amid the escalation of Iranian intentions to harm Israelis in Turkey, with an emphasis on Istanbul.” Other parts of Turkey remained at a slightly lower warning level, with recommendations to avoid visiting the country for nonessential reasons.

Illustrative: Travelers stand in line to check in at Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 13, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

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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