The Israeli couple, who found themselves arrested in Turkey last week after taking a picture of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's residence during a tour of Istanbul, are merely unfortunate pawns in the decrepit sultan's twisted game of political survival.
The pair could have easily been Dutch or American, but Israelis are far "sexier." The term "connections to the Mossad" always makes great headlines.
This is all part of Erdogan's plan: Get as many headlines as you can to divert the Turkish people's criticism away from himself, his party and his ebbing popularity.
Concocting diplomatic crises — preferably with non-Muslim nations — has been a reoccurring strategy to boost his standing in the polls.
Over the past few years, Erdogan has already played this trick with Germany, Russian, the Netherlands, the U.S. and even China.
He is willing to be subjected to both European and American sanctions, all for the goal of uniting the nation around him and keeping himself in power.
Now, when the Turkish opposition is poised to become a real threat in the 2023 general elections, as had previously happened with the municipal elections in Istanbul in 2019, tall tales of Mossad agents make a comeback.
Turkey's attempt to spark a diplomatic incident with Israel last month over the arrest of 15 men alleged to be Mossad agents spying on Hamas officials in the country did not really pan out and did not really provide the boost in the polls Erdogan was looking for.
In the end, no one could really confirm who these "agents" worked for, all of whom were Palestinian Muslims from the Gaza Strip.
And then came the vacationing Israeli couple. Now Turkish authorities have at least 20 days to try and squeeze as much as they can from Israel and give the local papers some juicy jingoistic headlines.
As legal proceedings for the two continue, Turkish and Israeli officials will hold backchannel talks where Ankara will demand more and more from Jerusalem.
This wishlist might include bettering Turkey's political standing on the Temple Mount through their agencies operating at the complex, a public apology for alleged spying and additional relief efforts for Hamas in Gaza.
If newspaper headlines can't deliver the goods, there's always an Israeli diplomat to expel.
After two decades in power, Erdogan is starting to feel the pinch. Prices in Turkey have soared by over 29% in October with inflation and unemployment going off the charts.
The Turkish lira keeps depreciating, national reserves dry up, foreign investors pull their money, and the tourism sector — one of the country's main economic engines — still has not recovered from the heavy blows it suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
With economic predictions remaining abysmal at best, Erdogan is turning to populist policies to keep his head above water.
For example, he pressured banks to cut down interest rates to curry favor with his Islamist base — who consider interest to be Haram.
To cement his grip on power, Erdogan is willing to erode the central bank's independence and push Turkey further into economic disaster.
He is facing mounting criticism over widespread nepotism and corruption permeating his regime.
The massive devastation caused by wildfires in Turkey earlier this year was seen by the public as an outgrowth of negligence spurred by corruption.
Everything is fair game now, even the Turkish constitution, which Erdogan is trying to amend in order to lower the voter threshold and allow smaller allied parties to enter parliament in the 2023 elections.
At the same time, he's ramping up censorship in the media and coming after institutions tasked with overseeing the vote.
Turkey is not a safe place for Israeli tourists — not because of the Turkish people, but because of a cynical and hostile regime that has made Israel an enemy of the state just to keep the leader in power.
Unable to force any sanctions in retaliation, Jerusalem has become Erdogan's personal punching bag.