Turkish intelligence services recently arrested Iranian operatives who were planning to carry out a shooting and kidnapping attack against Israeli tourists in the country, Ynet has learned on Monday.
According to reports on Turkish media, an Iranian squad was captured just before it managed to carry out an attack against Israeli tourists vacationing in Istanbul, while a second one remains at large and officials are concerned they will manage to launch an attack on Israeli targets in the immediate future.
Reuters Turkey said that the country arrested several suspected "operatives" of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), citing an Israeli security official.
This comes hours after Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israelis in Istanbul should leave "as soon as possible", stepping up a May 30 warning against travel to Turkey due to threats of attack sanctioned by Iran.
"Following events in recent weeks in Turkey and after a series of Iranian attempts to launch attacks against Israelis vacationing in Istanbul, we call on Israelis to avoid unnecessary travel there," Lapid said at a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party.
"Israeli security agencies, the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister's Office have all teamed up in recent weeks in a major operation that has saved the lives of Israelis. Some have returned and are walking among us oblivious of the danger they were in.
These terrorists target vacationing Israelis with the purpose of abducting or murdering them. Anyone can become a target. The danger is real and immediate."
The National Security Council later released a position paper backing the decision.
“Two weeks ago a travel warning to Turkey was raised, after defense officials raised fears of Iranian attempts to harm Israeli targets around the world, especially in Turkey,” it read.
Istanbul now has an alert rating of 4, putting it on par with Iran, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and other dangerous corners of the globe. Israelis were also advised to avoid non-essential travel to other parts of Turkey as well.
The National Security Council contacted Israeli nationals who were vacationing in Istanbul last month, and ordered them not to move from their hotel room because the Iranians "were on their tail."
An Israeli woman who received the warning told Ynet she was mortified.
"We were at the hotel for two whole days and were prohibited from moving. They said the Iranians were really following us," she said.
"It was terrifying. It was only when we got on the plane back to Israel that we breathed a sigh of relief. We told our friends not to go to Turkey."
A senior Israeli security official told Ynet on Sunday that "things are really heating up" in Turkey and confirmed there had been a recent rise in Iran's attempts to carry out attacks there.
The successful joint operation of Turkey's intelligence agencies MIT comes less than two weeks after Israel's National Security Council issued a severe travel warning urging Israelis to avoid traveling to the country and several other destinations bordering Iran, for fearing Iranian revenge for the assassination of high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer Col. Hassan Sayad Khodaei that was attributed to Israel.
The Prime Minister's Office said at the time there was a credible threat to the safety of Israelis and urged extra caution when traveling to those destinations.
Several high-profile deaths have struck the Islamic Republic in recent weeks. According to Iran International, a Saudi-funded news agency tied to Iran's opposition, one of the recently the officials who were killed recently was aeronautics expert Ayoob Entezari who was poisoned at a dinner to which he was invited. Entezari was reportedly linked to Tehran's military drone enterprise, among other projects.
Tehran tried to present the slain scientist as a rank-in-file worker for a private company, but in a recently surfaced video, Entezari can be seen with then-Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during a visit to a facility in the city of Yazd.
Meanwhile, smaller media outlets in Iran also reported the death of Kamran Malapour, an Iranian nuclear scientist who worked at the Natanz facility which has been hit in the past by several blasts that were also attributed to Israel.
The death of the two scientists was not reported by official Iranian media, but the timing of the incidents has sparked a wide interest.
Col. Ali Esmaelzadeh, a senior member of the Quds Force Unit 840 of the IRGC, has also died under unclear circumstances. According to Iran International, Esmaelzadeh fell to his death from the roof of his home in northern Iran.
According to the report, the IRGC informed his family that he had committed suicide, leaving a letter behind. The website cited sources who claimed that the IRGC was behind Esmaelzadeh's death after suspicion arose that he had leaked information that led to the assassination of Khodaei. Iran has denied the allegations.