As tensions rise between Israel and Iran, TAMSIN HUNT considers how Israeli nationals vacationing in Turkey have become kidnapping targets in a larger political game.
The low-intensity war waged between Israel and Iran for years is now coming to the surface, with Turkey as the battleground. Tensions have recently increased between Iran and Israel as Iran seeks retaliation for alleged Israeli operations on Iranian soil, specifically for the abduction of Mansour Rasouli in April, and the deaths of Hassan Sayad Khodaei and Ali Ismail Zadeh in May, all senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
On 30 May 2022, Israel’s Counter Terrorism Bureau warned Israeli nationals against non-essential travel to Turkey based on a specific Iranian threat of kidnap and assassination. Then, on 17 June they stepped up their travel warning, urging all Israelis who were unable to leave to take shelter in their hotel rooms and disguise their Israeli nationality.
This comes at a time when travel is starting to ramp up again after the tourism downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Turkey is a popular summer vacation destination. In mid-June there were estimated to be around 2,000 Israelis in Turkey for tourism, business, or medical purposes.
ABDUCTIONS IN TURKEY
The last few months have seen a rise in successful and attempted Iranian operations in Turkey, targeting both Israeli nationals and Iranian dissidents. Most abduction and assassination attempts have been intercepted by Israeli and Turkish intelligence and local police. Suspects arrested for such attempts are found to have been members of the IRGC or local collaborators, disguised as businesspersons, students and tourists.
LOCATIONS OF IRANIAN-BACKED OVERSEAS OPERATIONS JUNE 2021 – JUNE 2022
Iran continues to maintain a global network through the IRGC-Quds Force, that oversees Iranian operations abroad, and proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. They carry out surveillance, kidnapping and assassination operations around the world, largely targeting dissidents, Western opponents and Israeli nationals. Within the past year, authorities have uncovered Iranian plots in the US, Colombia, Cyprus, Kenya, Tanzania and Turkey. Furthermore, in foiling the attempted assassination of the consulate diplomat in April, Mossad agents uncovered a further plot by the IRGC to target an American general stationed in Germany and a journalist in France.
Turkey have stated that they will not take sides in the conflict between Israel and Iran, as they attempt to maintain diplomatic ties with both nations. However, as Turkish intelligence and security forces, in collaboration with Israel, continue to foil Iranian attacks, they are sending a clear message that they do not sanction such operations on their territory.
Timeline of Iranian operations on Turkish soil in 2022, targeting both Israeli nationals and Iranian dissidents
VIGILANCE IS KEY
The IRGC carry out politically motivated operations globally, but at present they are specifically targeting Israeli nationals and Iranian dissidents visiting or living in Turkey. As accusations continue to fly between Iran and Israel, there is no sign that these kinds of attacks will come to an end anytime soon. Israeli security and intelligence forces are collaborating with their Turkish counterparts to intercept such operations, so far successfully, as few recent attempts have been successful. However, the threat persists, and we can expect to see continued security and travel warnings going forward.