Israel has urged its citizens to avoid Turkey’s largest city Istanbul or return home “as soon as possible” if already there due to what it said was a threat of Iranian attempts to kill or abduct vacationing Israelis.
Issuing the warning on Monday, the Israeli government sharpened a May 30 advisory against its citizens travelling to Turkey.
“We are calling on Israelis not to fly to Istanbul – and if you don’t have a vital reason, don’t fly to Turkey. If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised statement.
“These terrorist threats are aimed at vacationing Israelis. They are selecting, in a random but deliberate manner, Israeli citizens with a view to kidnapping or murdering them,” he said.
“I want, from here, to relay a message to the Iranians as well. Whoever harms Israelis will not get away with it. Israel’s long arm will get them, no matter where they are.”
Lapid said a “huge effort” by Israel’s security forces had saved “Israeli lives in recent weeks”, and he thanked the Turkish government for its contribution, without giving further details.
An Israeli security official told the Reuters news agency that Turkey had arrested several suspected “operatives” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The stark warning to Israeli travellers comes amid the latest surge in tensions between bitter rivals Iran and Israel, with Tehran blaming Israel for a series of attacks on its nuclear and military infrastructure, inside Iran but also inside Syria.
Tehran has promised to retaliate against Israel, which it blames for the May 22 killing of Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, an IRGC colonel who was shot dead at the wheel of his car by two people on a motorcycle in the Iranian capital.
Israel neither confirmed nor denied responsibility, its standard policy over accusations of assassinations. It had accused Khodaei of having plotted attacks against its citizens worldwide.
Turkey is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. The two countries have been mending ties after more than a decade of strained relations.