Turkey arrests 33 alleged Mossad agents, as Israel threatens Hamas abroad

Ankara claims operation foiled Jewish state’s attempts to kidnap foreign nationals on Turkish soil; Israel declines to comment

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Turkish authorities arrest suspected Mossad informants, January 2, 2024 (Screenshot MIT)
Turkish authorities arrest suspected Mossad informants, January 2, 2024 (Screenshot MIT)

Turkey arrested dozens of individuals suspected of spying for Israel on Tuesday, according to the country’s interior minister, with the development coming in the wake of Israeli threats to target Hamas members abroad.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the counter-terrorism bureau of the Istanbul prosecutor’s office detained 33 suspects as part of an operation aimed at disrupting Mossad efforts to target foreign nationals in the country, Ali Yerlikaya posted on his X account.

The suspects were arrested in eight provinces across the country in what Ankara is calling Operation Mole.

Another 13 suspects remain at large, according to Turkish media reports.

According to Yerlikaya, the Mossad intelligence service planned to surveil and “kidnap” foreigners on Turkish soil.

Authorities also found 143,830 euros, $23,680, an unlicensed gun, and digital files.

FILE – This handout photograph taken and released by the Turkish Presidency Press Office on July 26, 2023, shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) welcoming the leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, (R) during their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara. (Mustafa KAMACI / Turkish Presidency Press Office / AFP)

“We will never allow espionage activities against the national unity and solidarity of our country!” wrote the interior minister.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the reported arrests.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel’s intelligence agencies were working to assassinate Hamas leaders across the Middle East, including in Turkey, as its forces battle the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.

Days later, Israeli media released recordings of Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar saying that Israel is determined to kill Hamas’s leaders “in every location” in the world, including Qatar, Turkey and Lebanon.

In response, Ankara warned Israel that it will face “serious consequences” if it tries to assassinate Hamas members on Turkish soil.

The Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed Turkish intelligence official as saying: “Necessary warnings were made to the interlocutors based on the news of Israeli officials’ statements, and it was expressed to Israel that [such an act] would have serious consequences.”

Turkish authorities arrest suspected Mossad informants, January 2, 2024 (Screenshot MIT)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned Israel that Israel would “pay a very heavy price” for carrying out operations against Hamas in Turkey.

Since December 2022, the MIT and Istanbul police have announced three operations uncovering Mossad cells in the country. The most recent was in July of last year, when Turkey announced it had arrested seven Arabs working for the Mossad intelligence on targets in Lebanon and Syria.

Mugshots of the seven suspected spies for the Mossad arrested in Istanbul by the Turkish intelligence service in July 2023 (Credit: Ahaber News website)

Following a period of steady rapprochement between the two eastern Mediterranean powers, Erdogan launched a series of scathing broadsides against the Jewish state since Israel launched its war on Hamas after the October 7 atrocities. He has called Hamas “freedom fighters,” referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “the butcher of Gaza,” and branded Israel a “terror state.”

Erdogan has also been in close contact with the Hamas leadership since the start of the war, and Turkey has maintained deep ties with the terror group over the years, allowing it to operate from an office in Istanbul for over a decade.

War erupted on October 7 when some 3,000 terrorists led by Hamas burst through the border from the Gaza Strip and rampaged through southern Israel, slaughtering over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid brutal atrocities. At least 240 people of all ages, including small children and the elderly, were abducted and taken hostage in Gaza.

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