Turkey Allows Israeli Diplomat to Visit Couple Detained on Suspicion of Espionage

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

A representative from the Israeli consulate in Turkey will visit the Israeli couple detained in Istanbul since last week on suspicion of espionage, the Foreign Ministry said Monday. 

Though the date of the visit has not yet been set, Israel's embassy in Ankara and the Consulate General of Istanbul are arranging a visit as soon as possible. The ministry said that Turkish approval of the visit was obtained after "intense diplomatic efforts in recent days."

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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 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.

In addition, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had decided to send Rina Djerassi, the head of the ministry’s consular division, to Istanbul “to strengthen” Israel’s diplomatic staff and “advance a number of consular issues.”

Media reports interpreted her trip as an attempt to resolve the situation in agreement with Turkish authorities. This step is needed in light of the current state of relations between the two countries.

Ankara and Jerusalem both withdrew their respective ambassadors following the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, though the Israeli embassy in Ankara remains open.

Last week on Tuesday, the Oknins, both residents of Modi'in in their 40s, were arrested on suspicion of espionage after photographing the Dolmabahce Palace while standing on a communication building in Istanbul.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the first Israeli official to address the matter, said Friday evening he was in contact with the couple's family and ruled out that they might have been working for an Israeli agency. The Foreign Ministry hopes an official from the ministry will visit the couple as soon as possible, Lapid added.

The couple's lawyer, Nir Yaslovitzh, said Turkey's state prosecution was indeed seeking a charge of espionage.

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