Israelis should not visit Istanbul, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday as the National Security Council raised the threat level for such trips following the publication of reports that Israel and Turkey thwarted an Iranian terrorist attack in the city last month.
The attempted attack on Israeli tourists was one of several by Iran in recent weeks, he said, adding that Israeli security organizations, the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are trying to save Israeli lives.
“These terrorist attacks are aimed at Israelis who went on vacation,” Lapid said at a Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset. “They are intentionally choosing Israeli citizens to abduct or murder. It could happen to anyone. It’s a real and immediate danger.”
“We call on Israelis not to fly to Istanbul, and if it is not necessary, do not fly to Turkey,” he added. “If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible… If you planned a flight to Istanbul, cancel [it]... No vacation is worth your life.”
"No vacation is worth your life."Foreign Minister Yair Lapid
Lapid said he had a message for Iranians attempting to harm Israelis: “The long arm of Israel will reach them, no matter where they will be.”
He also thanked the government of Turkey for its efforts to protect Israeli citizens. Ankara understands that, while tourism is important, some risks should not be taken, he said.
Lapid said he hoped the travel warning would be lifted soon for the peak tourism season.
Ankara was informed of Lapid’s planned statement before he made it, a diplomatic source said.
National Security Council raises threat level
The threat level for visiting Istanbul was 4, the highest possible, the National Security Council announced. It released a warning against traveling to Turkey two weeks ago.
“In light of the continued threat and an increase in Iranian intentions to harm Israelis in Turkey, with an emphasis on Istanbul, the NSC is raising the travel warning to its highest level 4,” it said in a statement. “As such, the NSC calls on Israelis in Istanbul to leave the city as soon as possible and Israelis planning to go to Turkey to avoid doing so when not necessary.”
However, there is no issue with connecting flights via Istanbul as long as travelers remain in the airport, the NSC added.
Channel 13 reported on Monday that a group of Israeli tourists that were visiting Turkey were called by an Israeli intelligence official and told to head straight to the airport and not even return to their hotel because Iranian Quds Force operatives were waiting for them in their hotel to kill them.
"On Friday afternoon, she was asked to stay where she was exactly, in the market area," said the friend of a girl who was in the group to Channel 13. "By no means to return to the hotel. An armored vehicle arrived with ten Israeli security guards, accompanied them, traveled with them to the airport [and] put them on a flight. Their luggage with all their belongings stayed in the hotel."
"They landed in the country and went straight to questioning and were asked who they had talked to, where they were. A really serious interrogation," the friend added, "and when they tried to figure out what happened, they explained that they were just waiting for them at the hotel. She is really anxious and unable to speak, on such a level."
Later on Monday, Ami Maimon from Kol Barama radio tweeted that a friend of his who had just arrived in Turkey was called by Israeli intelligence and told not to move because he was being followed by murderers. "They tracked his phone, gave him an identification code during the conversation and within minutes they got to him and brought him back to Israel safely."
Meanwhile, flights from Israel to Turkey continued, with crowds at Ben-Gurion Airport, and Turkish Airlines, which has the second-most flights from Israel after El Al, is not offering refunds to those seeking to cancel their trips, KAN News reported.
Israeli security officials updated their Turkish counterparts last month on an Iranian network intent on carrying out attacks against Israelis in Turkey and asked for their assistance to foil them.
Iran has vowed to exact revenge on Israel after the mysterious deaths of several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers in recent weeks.
Turkish authorities detained agents working for the IRGC in Turkey, Walla reported Monday.
The warnings in Turkey come amid a warming in diplomatic relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu visited Israel last month, the first such visit in 15 years.