President Isaac Herzog called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday to thank him for Turkey’s efforts to find Iranian terrorist squads in Istanbul. Their conversation was termed “positive and warm” by Israeli sources.
Ever since Herzog assumed office, Erdogan has marked him as a partner to move toward reconciliation between the two countries, calling him from time to time to discuss various topics.
This time, it was the Israeli side that initiated the call. “I thanked the Turkish president for his efforts to foil terror attacks on Turkish soil. I emphasized that the danger was not over yet,” Herzog explained later on Twitter. Until now Israel has questioned how serious Erdogan is about warming relations between the two countries.
Sunday’s conversation was a further indication that Turkish leaders take a serious view of Iran’s attempts to harm Israeli tourists in Turkey. The presence of police forces at major tourist destinations was significantly bolstered, with other forces operating on the ground in order to thwart terrorist squads. Cooperation between Turkish intelligence services, Israel’s Mossad and the National Security Council was significantly augmented.
After years in which Israel has complained about Turkey harboring senior Hamas officials out to harm Israeli citizens, security agencies of both countries are now working together closely to find the terrorists sent by Iran, who are already deployed in Istanbul. An Israeli source described these squads as “low-level gangs of Turks, paid by Iran to carry out kidnappings.”
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The security services of both countries are waging a race against time. On one hand, the Israeli assessment is that the actions taken so far have brought these agencies closer to foiling the terrorists’ plans. However, the intelligence collected so far includes an instruction given to these squads to act against Israeli targets soon and at any cost. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to protect all 2,000 Israeli tourists now in Istanbul. The defense establishment flooded the media over the weekend with information indicating that attacks were imminent. The main concern is a terrorist takeover of a hotel room with an Israeli family inside. Another scenario is gunfire directed at a group of Israelis at an entertainment venue in the city. The defense establishment reported with satisfaction that many Israeli tourists heeded instructions and locked themselves inside their hotel rooms.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards will bear responsibility for any attack, if one indeed takes place. “Anyone dispatching a terrorist will pay the price,” said Bennett at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, signaling that Israel would exact a price from Tehran. “Israel’s security arms are working to foil attempts to harm Israelis before these can be implemented. We’ll continue to strike people dispatching terrorists and the ones behind them,” he added.
Israel took into account the fact that its sharp warning would deter tourists from other countries from traveling to Turkey. Politicians were worried that Turkey, which is in dire economic straits, would not forgive Israel for harming its post-COVID tourist season. However, the tight cooperation proves that both countries well understand the seriousness of the threat. “The Turks have a real interest in cooperating with Israel in order to foil such an attack,” said an Israeli security agency source. “They well understand that if an attack against tourists takes place in Istanbul, the incident could deal a serious blow to Turkey’s hotel industry and drive tourists away, to other destinations,” said this source.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is planning a snap visit to Turkey on Thursday, exactly one month after the historic visit of Turkey’s foreign minister to Israel, the first in 15 years. Lapid will meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. “We won’t pretend that our relations haven’t seen some ups and downs,” Lapid said while greeting Cavusoglu in Jerusalem last May, adding that “nations with a long history know how to close a chapter and open a new one.” The month that has elapsed since then has enabled both sides to seriously examine whether they are indeed ready to open a new chapter in their relations.