Israel Turns to Third Country to Release Detained Couple in Turkey

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Natalie and Mordi Oknin in Istanbul, last week.
Natalie and Mordi Oknin in Istanbul, last week.Credit: Facebook
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel has turned to a third country in an effort to secure the release of an Israeli couple held in Turkey for over a week on suspicion of espionage.

Natalie and Mordi Oknin are being held by Turkish authorities after they were accused of “political and military espionage” by an Istanbul court, which decided that they must be held until their trial. Turkish officials have not made any demands in exchange for their release, nor used the arrest to apply pressure on Israel.

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The couple was arrested after photographing the Dolmabache Palace, which has not been used as an official residence for decades. Turkey's interior minister said he expected them to be tried for espionage.

Representatives of this third country contacted officials in Turkey in an attempt to mediate the dispute between Jerusalem and Ankara over the couple's arrest and to increase pressure on Turkey to deport the two.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with relatives of the couple on Wednesday and briefed them on efforts to get them released. Earlier this week, Bennett called them “two innocent civilians who were caught up in a complicated situation.”

In the first public remarks by a Turkish official on the affair, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said "the courts will decide" their fate. While Israel's president, prime minister and foreign minister declared that the Oknins are not spies and were not employed by any espionage agencies, Soylu claimed that the case against them was not based solely on the photograph they took.

On Tuesday, the Oknins were visited by Israeli Foreign Ministry officials. Officials cautioned the visits did not point to the possibility of the couple being released soon. "We don't want to create excessive optimism," said one official. "The visits are very important, but the goal is to get them released and return them to Israel."

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