The National Security Council lowered the threat level in its travel warning to Israelis visiting Istanbul from high to medium on Tuesday, after Israeli and Turkish authorities cooperated to counter Iranian terrorist cells.
Israel and Turkey worked together to stop several Iranian terrorist cells seeking to attack Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Turkish security forces arrested multiple such cells working under the auspices of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who were recruiting Turkish citizens, which lowered the threat level to Israelis, the NSC said.
The most recent foiled attack
The statement came 10 days after Turkish intelligence revealed that it stopped an Iranian attack against a former Israeli ambassador, his wife, and several other Israeli tourists. The Mossad whisked away several Israelis moments before Iranian-backed terrorists planned to kidnap them, and Turkish authorities arrested 10 suspects.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as Israeli and Turkish security forces for stopping the attacks.
“Our actions were successful in protecting human life,” Bennett said. “We will gradually get back to normal. I call on Israelis to remain alert.”
Israelis should stay wary of Turkey
The NSC called on Israelis to “examine the necessity of travel to Turkey” because “the Iranian motivation is still high” to attack them in the future.
The warning includes advising Israelis visiting Turkey not to publicize the details of their trip on social media in advance or as they’re taking place, to inform a close relative in Israel of their itinerary, to remain aware of their surroundings, not to wear Israeli symbols or discuss their IDF service in Turkey, and to try not to talk to strangers.
NSC Intelligence Division head Yossi Adler said on Tuesday that there were numerous terrorist cells attempting simultaneous attacks and abductions of specific Israeli targets, and Israeli and Turkish intelligence and security agencies took “unusual actions compared with the past,” working together “shoulder to shoulder.”
Adler said that cooperation contributed to the diplomatic rapprochement between Jerusalem and Ankara.
Lowering the threat level from four to three, he said, is “not a total removal of the warning, but we are going back to the situation of a few weeks ago.”
Publicizing the threat level and the reasoning behind it was effective, and the NSC will likely do so again if there is a similar situation in the future, Adler said.
Though there was significant reporting on Israelis who ignored the warning and visited Istanbul anyway, two-thirds fewer Israelis traveled to the city than previously expected.
“We will not rest, not in Turkey nor throughout the world,” Adler warned. “There are still warnings about different places, reflecting the potential for an outbreak of terror attacks. We ask the public to try to choose places with a lower-to-nonexistent threat level when planning their vacations.”
Where is it safe to travel?
The Sinai Desert and Jordan, which were recently at the highest warning level as well, have been lowered to Level 2.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Ankara last month, and expressed appreciation for Turkey’s cooperation in countering the threat.
“We will not allow terror in our land,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu. “I believe we sent the message to the terrorists.”
“We will not allow terror in our land. I believe we sent the message to the terrorists.”Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu
In light of warming diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Ankara, the ministers discussed exchanging ambassadors again.
Turkey-Israel ties deteriorated beginning in 2008 when Operation Cast Lead enraged then-prime minister Erdogan, as he had met with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert days before and felt he had been made to look like he supported it. Relations hit their lowest point after the 2009 Mavi Marmara incident, in which IDF commandos boarded a ship seeking to break the blockade on Gaza, and in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat, nine armed activists from an organization affiliated with Erdogan were killed.
In the ensuing years, Erdogan’s rhetoric grew more vituperative, accusing Israel of murdering children. Turkey harbored Hamas terrorists and funded destabilizing actions in east Jerusalem, and the tightly censored media in Turkey promoted antisemitic articles and television programs.
Lapid’s visit to Ankara was a major step in improving diplomatic relations between the countries, a trend beginning in the last year, with multiple calls between President Isaac Herzog and Erdogan. Herzog visited Ankara earlier this year, and Cavusoglu visited Jerusalem.
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.