Israel raised its Istanbul travel advisory to the highest level on Monday because of what it said was a threat of Iranian attempts to kill or abduct Israelis vacationing in Turkey.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said a “huge effort” by Israel’s security forces had saved “Israeli lives in recent weeks.” He thanked the Turkish government for its contribution.
He did not give further details. An Israeli security official told Reuters Turkey had arrested several suspected “operatives” of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Turkish officials and the Iranian embassy in Ankara did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“We are calling on Israelis not to fly to Istanbul – and if you don’t have a vital reason, don’t fly to Turkey. If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible,” Lapid said in a televised statement.
“These terrorist threats are aimed at vacationing Israelis. They are selecting, in a random but deliberate manner, Israeli citizens with a view to kidnapping or murdering them,” he said.
“I want, from here, to relay a message to the Iranians as well. Whoever harms Israelis will not get away with it. Israel’s long arm will get them, no matter where they are.”
Tehran has vowed to retaliate against Israel, which it blames for the May 22 killing of Hassan Sayad Khodai, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps colonel who was shot dead at the wheel of his car by two people on a motorcycle.
Israel neither confirmed nor denied responsibility, its standard policy over accusations of assassinations. It accused Khodai of having plotted attacks against its citizens worldwide.
Turkey is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. The two countries have been mending their ties after more than a decade of strained relations.
The upgraded advisory does not apply to Israelis on flights with layovers in Istanbul “as long as they do not leave the airport”, Israel’s National Security Council said in a statement.
On Monday, Iranian media reported that two members of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division died as “martyrs” in Iran in separate incidents over the weekend. The term is typically a designation given to those on important assignments.
The deaths of the two men come as tensions remain high over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers, and its uranium enrichment program that is now closest it has ever been to weapons-grade levels. While authorities offered no suggestion of foul play in the men’s deaths, Israel has been accused of killing other high-ranking Guard members amid the growing crisis.
The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies, believed to be close to the Guard, identified one of the dead as Ali Kamani and said he died in Iran’s central city of Khomein. Tasnim said that Kamani died in a “car accident,” without elaborating.
The news agencies did not give a rank for Kamani. However, a photo published by Tasnim showed the man wearing the epaulets of a second lieutenant in the Guard’s aerospace program, which runs Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as some of the country’s air defences.
Khomein, the birthplace of the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is in the province of Markazi. That province is also home to Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor, a key nuclear program site that has air defences around it.
Fars alone reported on the death of the second man, whom it identified as Mohammad Abdous. The agency published a picture of Abdous in civilian clothes at the Imam Reza Shrine in the city of Mashhad, Iran.
Fars said that Abdous died “on a mission” while working in Iran’s Semnan province. Rural Semnan province, east of Tehran, is home to the Imam Khomeini Spaceport, which has been used in satellite launches.
The report of the two men’s deaths come about a week and half after the reported death of Guard Col. Ali Esmailzadeh, a member of its expeditionary Quds Force, under unclear circumstances.
In May, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei in Tehran. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack. Iranian officials have blamed “global arrogance” – code for the United States and Israel – for Khodaei’s killing.
The 50-year-old Khodaei remains a shadowy figure and Iran has yet to offer biographic detail beyond saying that he also was a member of the elite Quds Force. The Guard has described him as “defender of the shrine” – a reference to Iranians who support militias fighting the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Thousands attended his funeral in Tehran and hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi visited his family.
The manner of the slaying evoked previous targeted attacks by Israel in Iran. In November 2020, a top Iranian military nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun while traveling in a car outside Tehran. [Reuters, AP]