Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hailed security cooperation with Turkey to help foil an Iranian plot to kidnap or kill Israeli nationals in Istanbul as he met his counterpart in Ankara on Thursday for talks. high level aimed at cementing the rapprochement of the countries.
Standing next to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after talks in the Turkish capital, Lapid said Israel was confident that Ankara ‘knows how to respond to Iranians’ following ongoing attempts to harm Israeli travelers on Turkish soil.
“The lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey,” Lapid said, using the country’s new official name.
“Iran is behind these attempted terrorist attacks,” Lapid said. “Intelligence leaves no doubt about it.”
“Israel will not sit idly by when there are attempts to harm its citizens in Israel and around the world,” he pledged, speaking in English.
While in Ankara, Lapid also reportedly met with Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization who is seen as close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Hebrew media, the two men discussed efforts to thwart alleged Iranian attack plans.
Earlier in the day, Turkish media reported that the country’s security forces had arrested several people who allegedly worked for an Iranian intelligence cell that planned to assassinate or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul.
News of Lapid’s bust and visit came weeks after Israel ordered its citizens of Istanbul to leave immediately, warning of an impending Iranian attack plot targeting Israelis in Turkey.
Speaking to Lapid, Cavusoglu promised that Turkey would never allow Iran to carry out attacks on its soil.
“We can never allow such things to happen in our country, and we will never allow such things to happen in our country,” he said.
Lapid thanked Turkey for the coordination and said the parties aimed to lower Israel’s travel warning ahead of the peak summer travel season.
The warning had strained newly revived ties as Ankara chafed at being portrayed as a dangerous tourist destination in the international media. Turkey had been a top destination for Israeli tourists in the past and Ankara has sought to reinvigorate the sector alongside renewed ties.
Lapid said it was crucial that both sides complete the process allowing Israeli airlines to fly to Turkey again, discussed during Cavusoglu’s visit to Israel in May.
“Last year there was great progress in relations between Israel and Turkey,” Lapid said. “We have started discussing the return of ambassadors in the near future and the improvement of our economic and political dialogue.”
“I hope we will complete these steps soon.”
Speaking in Turkish through a translator, Cavusoglu said mutual visits would continue, promising the process would result in the return of ambassadors.
There will be business meetings in July and September, Cavusoglu revealed.
“We would also like to continue our dialogue in the field of energy,” he stressed, referring to the major gas discoveries that have transformed the eastern Mediterranean. Israel has been allied on energy distribution with rivals Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations have become strained under Erdogan, who is a vocal critic of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. Turkey’s membership of the Islamic terror group Hamas has angered Israel.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed an anti-blockade flotilla bound for Gaza, sparking a melee that left 10 Turkish nationals dead and a number of Israeli soldiers seriously injured.
Although Lapid avoided the subject in his statement, Cavusoglu said the Israeli-Palestinian issue came up during their meeting “We expressed our expectations and our sensitivities, and the Israeli side knows them very well,” he said. he said, stressing Ankara’s support for a two-state solution and the need to avoid “measures that would harm the peace process”.
The two diplomats also discussed the import of Turkish fruit to Israel and cooperation in fighting forest fires.
Cavusoglu wished Lapid success as prime minister, a role he is expected to assume next week. He decided not to cancel the trip despite political unrest in his country and is expected to land in Israel tonight.
On Monday, outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was “working closely with Turkish officials to thwart strike attempts against Israelis and Jews”, adding that “cooperation between Turkey and Israel is close and takes place at all levels,” he said.
Israel has issued a series of repeated stern warnings to Israeli travelers in recent weeks to avoid traveling to Turkey and said it thwarted attempted attacks with the help of Turkish authorities.
It is currently estimated that there are around 2,000 Israelis in Turkey. On Sunday, Channel 12 news reported that fewer Israelis were traveling to the country, without providing updated figures or sources.
The warning followed reports that the Iranians had been planning attacks for months, apparently in revenge for the killings of senior officers and others blamed on Israel.
In late May, senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot dead outside his home in Tehran. An unnamed US intelligence official told the New York Times that Israel told Washington it carried out the attack, which Israel has not confirmed.
Khodaei’s assassination was the most publicized murder in Iran since the November 2020 murder of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
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