Israel Advises Citizens to Cancel Passover Travel Plans to Turkey Due to 'Imminent Threat'

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Police forensic officers investigate an explosion near an overpass in Istanbul, late evening, Saturday, April 9, 2016.
Police forensic officers investigate an explosion near an overpass in Istanbul, late evening, Saturday, April 9, 2016. Credit: Emrah Gurel, AP

A counter-terrorism official warned Tuesday of an 'imminent threat' of attack against Israeli tourists in Turkey, citing a ISIS plot that he said has not yet been thwarted. The Counter-Terrorism Bureau advised that Israelis planning on spending the Passover holiday in Turkey cancel their trips or travel elsewhere.

The Counter-Terrorism Bureau said that intelligence information doesn't suggest specific intentions by ISIS to commit attacks against Israelis or Jews in Turkey. Instead, the warning was more general in nature, suggesting that ISIS is planning an attack against Western tourist sites in Turkey.

"These are places where many Israelis go naturally," said the counterterrorism official. 

Before the warning was issued, Israel informed the Turkish government and passed along information to the Turkish security forces.

"Everyone who needs to know the information in our hands knows," said the official. According to him, despite public warnings from Israel and the U.S. regarding a possible attack by ISIS in the immediate future, no attacks had been thwarted and it was unclear if any plans had been disrupted.

"The deadly attack in central Istanbul, in which a group of Israeli tourists was hurt, once again demonstrates the high threat in Turkey posed by ISIS elements to tourist sites and shows a high capability to carry out more attacks," the counter-terrorism bureau said in a statement.

The Counter-Terrorism Bureau stressed that the travel warning is unrelated to the Israeli-Turkish talks on reconciliation and normalization of relations between the two countries.

"The travel warning is based only on solid intelligence information and we're publishing it regardless of the state of diplomatic relations with that country," said a senior Counter-Terrorism Bureau official. "Our only consideration is the safety of Israeli citizens."

The Counter-Terrorism Bureau has received hundreds of telephone calls in the past week from Israelis who work in Turkey or plan on spending time in the country during the Passover holiday. All the Israelis who called were advised by the bureau to cancel their planned trips to Turkey. However, there is no reason for Israelis passing through airports in Turkey on their way to another destination not to do so.

Senior officials at the bureau held talks with the Israeli travel agencies association this week and asked to publish guidelines to all travel agencies in the country to take into consideration Israelis who ordered vacations in Turkey and wish to cancel them or change their vacation destination to another country.

"We asked them to examine whether it's possible not to charge customers for cancellations or changes or to charge a minimal amount," said the senior official.

Israel issued a travel warning to Turkey last Friday, urging its citizens to return home. "Immediate risks for terrorist attacks in the country are emerging," said the message released by the Prime Minister's Office on behalf of the bureau. "The threat applies to all tourist sites in Turkey."

Two similar warnings were issued at the end of March, calling on Israelis to return home "as soon as possible" due to the threat of attack.

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