Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday urged citizens in Turkey to leave “as soon as possible” due to threats that Iranian agents are actively planning attacks on Israelis in Istanbul.
The stern warning comes amid rising tensions between arch-foes Iran and Israel, with Tehran blaming the Jewish state for a series of attacks on its nuclear and military infrastructure, inside Iran as well as inside Syria.
Lapid did not mention any alleged Israeli operations against Iranian targets. But he said Israelis in Turkey faced a “real and immediate danger” from Iranian agents, citing “several Iranian attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis on holiday in Istanbul.”
“If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible,” Lapid said in a public warning. “If you have planned a trip to Istanbul – cancel it. No vacation deserves your life,” he added during a meeting with lawmakers from his Yesh Atid party. The foreign minister urged the Israelis “not to travel to Turkey at all, unless this travel” necessary.”
Travel warning lifted
Hours after his statement, the Israeli National Security Council raised its travel warning to Istanbul to the highest level.
“Given the ongoing nature of the threat and in light of Iran’s increasing intentions to attack Israelis in Turkey, particularly Istanbul, the National Security Council has raised the travel advisory for Istanbul to the highest level, Level Four,” the National Security Council said in a statement. .
The National Security Council noted that other parts of Turkey remain at medium threat level 3, stressing that there is no ban on using Istanbul Airport as a connecting hub for flights, “provided that one does not leave the airport.”
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but tensions have risen after a series of high-profile incidents that Tehran has blamed on Israel. The Islamic Republic has claimed that Israel is responsible for the killing of Revolutionary Guards colonel Sayyad Kheddi who was shot outside his home in Tehran on May 22.
The Guard described him as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a term used for those working for Iran in Syria or Iraq, and vowed to avenge his assassination by the “Zionists.”
Israel was also blamed for last week’s air strikes on Damascus International Airport, which caused extensive damage to two runways. The airport is located in an area south of the Syrian capital where Iranian-backed groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, operate on a regular basis.
The plot was foiled
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds in Syria, which the Jewish state’s military says are necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
Lapid said that some Israelis who had recently traveled to Turkey had returned “without knowing that their lives had been saved.” Lapid said the alleged attackers were targeting Israeli citizens “in order to kidnap or kill them.”
Earlier on Monday, Israeli public broadcaster Kan claimed that Iranian agents had planned to kidnap Israelis in Turkey a month ago. The plot was thwarted after Israel alerted Ankara about the threat.
Lapid thanked the Turkish government “for its efforts to protect the lives of Israeli citizens,” without providing details. Turkey has long been a popular holiday destination for Israelis, including during more than a decade of diplomatic rift between the two countries.
Ankara and Israel have repaired ties in recent months, with senior Turkish leaders citing Israel’s importance to the Turkish tourism sector. On Monday, Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted an unnamed security official as saying that there were several Iranian “cells” planning operations against Israeli tourists in Turkey.
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