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14 Jun, 2022 02:38

Israel urges citizens to leave Turkish city

Counter-terrorism officials say Istanbul should be avoided amid fears of Iranian attacks
Israel urges citizens to leave Turkish city

The Israeli government has issued a travel warning for Istanbul and raised its terrorism alert to the highest level after officials claimed to have shut down multiple Iranian attack plots targeting tourists.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced the new advisory for the Turkish city on Monday, citing “a series of attempts at Iranian terrorist attacks against Israelis who went on vacation in Istanbul” in recent weeks.

“We are calling on Israelis not to fly to Istanbul, and if you have no vital need, do not fly to Turkey. If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible... No vacation is worth your life,” 

Lapid’s statement coincided with a decision by Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau to raise the alert level for Istanbul to the top of the scale – a distinction shared with war-torn Afghanistan and Yemen – “given the continued threat and Iranian intentions to hurt Israelis.” The rest of Turkey has been flagged with a warning urging against non-essential travel. 

The Israeli foreign minister offered few details about the alleged Iranian plots, saying only that they aimed to “kidnap or murder” Israelis. According to local media reports, several citizens visiting Istanbul were “whisked away” by security agents last week over fears that Iranian assassins would strike. Israel’s Channel 13 noted that officials are not planning to conduct a rescue operation, and that some citizens wished to remain in the city despite the warnings, though a surge of flights carrying thousands of passengers from Turkey to Israel was reported on Monday. 

The heightened alarm over Istanbul follows previous warnings from Israel’s National Security Council, which declared last month that “Iranian terrorist operatives” were present in Turkey and posed a threat to Israelis. At the time, more than 100 citizens residing in Turkey were reportedly contacted by counter-terrorism officials and asked to return home.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have soared in recent weeks, with Tehran accusing its rival of assassinating an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer in the Iranian capital last month. While Israel has not formally addressed the allegations, an unnamed Israeli intelligence official told the New York Times that the country was indeed behind the killing, a charge later denied by a senior lawmaker.