Turkish authorities have arrested Iranians suspected of planning attacks on Israeli tourists and businessmen with pistols and silencers.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday thanked Turkey for helping thwart an Iranian plot to harm Israelis in Istanbul and said the effort was still underway.
Turkish authorities arrested five Iranians suspected of plotting attacks against Israelis ahead of Lapid’s visit, Turkish media reported earlier in the day.
Lapid warned that Israel will not “stand idly by” in the face of threats to its citizens from Iran.
“The lives of Israeli citizens have been saved in recent weeks thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey. These efforts continue,” Lapid said during a visit to Turkey.
“We are not only talking about the murder of innocent Israeli tourists, but also about a clear violation of Turkish sovereignty by Iranian terror. We are sure that Turkey knows how to respond to the Iranians on this matter.”
Lapid arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, as the two countries continue efforts to mend ties strained by Turkey’s strong support for the Palestinians.
The Hurriyet newspaper reported that Turkish authorities on Wednesday arrested five Iranian citizens suspected of being involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Israeli citizens in Istanbul.
Police seized two pistols and two silencers in searches of houses and hotels where the suspects were staying, according to the report.
No immediate response was available from Iran.
Earlier this month, Israel issued a warning to its citizens to avoid traveling to Turkey and urged Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately. The warning said that Israeli citizens could be targeted by Iranian attacks.
“For its part, Israel will not sit idly by when there are attempts to harm its citizens in Israel and around the world. Our immediate objective is to achieve the calm that will allow us to change the travel warning to [Turkey]Lapid said.
The travel warning angered Turkey, whose economy relies heavily on tourism. Ankara responded by issuing a statement saying that Turkey was a safe country.
Standing next to Lapid, Cavusoglu said Turkey “cannot allow such incidents to happen in our country.”
“We have delivered the necessary messages,” he said, without elaborating.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but tensions have escalated following a series of high-profile incidents that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Tehran alleged that Israel was responsible for the assassination of Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in his Tehran home on May 22.
Turkey’s private IHA news agency reported that Iran sent agents disguised as businessmen and tourists to Istanbul to assassinate Israelis in retaliation for the Khodaei killing and other attacks.
Meanwhile, the IRGC said on Thursday that it was replacing its veteran intelligence chief without giving reasons why.
Turkey, beset by economic problems, has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing ties with several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations have become strained under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is a vocal critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Turkey’s embrace of Hamas, the movement that rules the besieged Gaza Strip, has angered Israel.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces raided a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas came to power there in 2007.
Nine Turkish activists were killed. Israel apologized to Turkey for the deaths under a US-brokered deal, but reconciliation efforts stalled.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador in 2018 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting Israel to respond in kind. The two countries have not reappointed their ambassadors.
The latest rapprochement has been led by Israel’s largely ceremonial President Isaac Herzog, who had several phone calls with Erdogan and visited Turkey in March, becoming the first Israeli leader to do so in 14 years.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Israel last month. It was the first official visit to Israel by a Turkish official in 15 years.