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Turkish media: Iran paid $35,000 to agents tasked with killing Israelis in Istanbul

Sabah newspaper publishes new details of June plan to target three Israeli tourists staying at hotel near Taksim Square; video allegedly shows suspect scouting location

An alleged Iranian agent is seen photographing a hotel where three Israeli tourists were staying, amid a plan to kill them, in June 2022, according to the Turkish Sabah newspaper. (Screenshot: Twitter)
An alleged Iranian agent is seen photographing a hotel where three Israeli tourists were staying, amid a plan to kill them, in June 2022, according to the Turkish Sabah newspaper. (Screenshot: Twitter)

New details of an alleged Iranian attempt to kill Israelis in Istanbul last month were published by Turkish media on Saturday.

According to the Sabah daily newspaper, which is close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian agents were instructed to target three Israeli tourists staying at a hotel near Istanbul’s Taksim Square, in exchange for $35,000.

A video published by Sabah showed a man photographing areas inside the hotel.

According to the paper, the four members of the cell were arrested on June 17, at the “last minute.”

Local media on Friday reported that Turkish security forces foiled another attempt by Iranian agents, on July 14.

The reports come a month after Israeli officials issued an urgent appeal to all citizens to leave Istanbul immediately, and reconsider non-essential travel to other parts of Turkey, warning that Iranian agents were ready to kidnap or kill Israelis there as Tehran seeks revenge for the killings of officers blamed on Israel.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent months, after the assassination of an Iranian officer in Tehran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

Last month, the Mossad spy agency and its local counterparts managed to thwart at least three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul, a senior security official briefing Hebrew media said at the time.

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.

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

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

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh has said that Israeli claims that Tehran was targeting Israelis in Turkey are “baseless” and part of a “pre-designed scenario to destroy relations between the two Muslim countries.”

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.

Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which also handles operations outside of the country, recently 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.

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