Turkey insists it’s still safe after Israel warns of Iranian attack plot

Ankara says Israel’s travel warnings relate to ‘different international developments,’ refrains from mentioning Israel by name, says it ‘continues to fight against terrorism’

Tourists take pictures of the Hagia Sophia Mosque while standing next to a police fence in Istanbul, on June 14, 2022. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Tourists take pictures of the Hagia Sophia Mosque while standing next to a police fence in Istanbul, on June 14, 2022. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkey insisted it was a safe country Tuesday, a day after Israel urged its citizens to leave over fears of Iranian attacks in a warning apparently coordinated with Turkish authorities.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said “some countries” had issued travel warnings — without mentioning Israel, which on Monday raised its travel advisory for Istanbul to its highest level, as Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned of a “real and immediate” threat to Israelis in the city due to an Iranian kidnap-murder plot.

Turkey “is a safe country and continues to fight against terrorism,” a statement from Ankara said. “These travel warnings are considered to be related to different international developments and motives,” it added.

Lapid on Monday called on Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately and for citizens to cancel travel plans to the country amid reports that an Iranian plot to assassinate Israelis in Istanbul was foiled at the last moment, and that Turkish authorities had uncovered a network of Iranian agents aiming to target Israelis.

“If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible,” Lapid said. “If you planned a trip to Istanbul — cancel it. No vacation is worth risking your lives for.”

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on June 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Later, the National Security Council issued its most severe travel warning for Istanbul due to concerns of impending attacks, ordering Israelis out of the area.

Also Monday, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted an unnamed security official saying several Iranian “cells” were planning operations against Israeli tourists in Turkey.

And 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.

Two weeks ago, Channel 12 reported that Israeli security officials called and directly warned more than 100 Israeli citizens in Turkey that they were in Iran’s crosshairs, asking them to return home.

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.

Many Israelis vacationing in Turkey have ignored the warnings to return home immediately, while others have continued to head to Turkey. The country has historically been among the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis, and a recent diplomatic thaw has helped buoy tourism.

Despite the warnings, the Walla news site reported that 21 flights with 3,750 passengers departed Israel for Turkey on Monday. Some may be transferring through Turkey; Israeli authorities have said it is still safe for Israelis to have a layover in Istanbul, as long as they stay in the airport.

An Army Radio report showed a long line of people waiting to check in to a flight to Istanbul on Monday evening.

Tourism Minister Yoel Rozvozov has asked airlines to refund Israelis who are heeding the warning and canceling their flights.

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