Israel has reduced the threat level for travel to Turkey, the National Security Council announced Tuesday, attributing it to intelligence and operational cooperation with Ankara and a wave of arrests of members of Iranian cells that were plotting against Israelis in the country.
For the past two weeks, Israel has issued the highest travel warning for Turkey, calling on Israelis to avoid the country if possible. It specified that Istanbul poses a particularly high risk, due to Iranian cells who planned to carry out terror attacks and kidnappings against Israelis there.
The head of the National Security Council's intelligence unit, Yossi Adler, told journalists on Tuesday that they have downgraded Istanbul's threat level from 4, the highest, to 3, bringing it in line with the travel warning level for the rest of the country.
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Level 3 still implies some danger, and Israelis are advised against any non-essential travel to Turkey, citing "the possibility of further Iranian efforts to carry out attacks there in the future."
In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Israeli and Turkish security forces for their efforts "over the past few months, and particularly in recent weeks, to prevent harm to Israelis in Istanbul and in Turkey," and specifically mentioned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's cooperation. Bennett also called on Israelis in Turkey to remain vigilant.
Adler stressed that there is no technical procedure for these rankings, but that they are the result of ongoing assessments. The close cooperation with Turkey, he said, helped foil terror attacks. In retrospect, he added, the council was fully justified in taking the measures it did due to the immediate security threat posed to Israelis.
Shortly after the high-level travel warning was issued for Istanbul, Israeli defense officials believed that Iranian cells in the city were growing desperate due to the foiling of their efforts to attack Israelis, and may go to greater lengths to harm these citizens. Israel therefore warned its citizens in the city not to open their hotel room doors to unfamiliar people. Security officials also discussed the possibility of Israelis being approached by people posing as locals – for example, tour guides – to kidnap them.
Days earlier, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid cited "a real and immediate danger" during a meeting with his Yesh Atid party. The attempted attacks, he added, "are directed at Israelis who go on vacation. They purposely choose Israeli citizens in order to kidnap or murder them. It could happen to anyone."
The Iranians have attributed the killing last month of Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a senior member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, to Israel. Since the incident, senior Iranian officials have threatened to carry out retaliatory actions against Israel – both within Israeli territory and abroad. Iranian General Hossein Salami accused "Zionists" of the assassination of Khodaei and vowed to avenge it during a visit to Khodaei's family, Tasnim news agency reported.
Israeli intelligence assessments last month that Iran is attempting to carry out retaliatory action targeting Israeli officials, Jewish community members, tourists and sites that are associated with the Jewish community, such as synagogues, in Turkey.