Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stressed on Tuesday that Israel will use its power to thwart attacks against Israeli citizens abroad as Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau raised the travel warning for Istanbul to Level 4 – the highest level.
"We will not hesitate to use the power of the State of Israel anywhere in the world, for the protection of our citizens,” Bennett said at a memorial service for the victims of the 1982 Lebanon War.
His remarks came a day after Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called on Israeli citizens in Turkey’s capital, Istanbul, to leave the country as soon as possible.
“Following events in Turkey in recent weeks and after a series of Iranian terror attempts targeting Israelis who were vacationing in Istanbul, we call on Israelis not to fly to Turkey. Unless you have some essential need – do not fly there, and if you are currently in Istanbul, come back to Israel as soon as possible,” Lapid said.
He added that some Israeli citizens who recently returned home safely from the Turkish capital are not even aware of the grave risk they faced. Lapid hailed Israeli security organizations for their “tremendous lifesaving effort.”
One Israeli man in Istanbul told authorities he managed to escape a kidnapping attempt.
In another incident, reported by Channel 13 News, an Israeli woman was in an Istanbul market when she received a phone call from a senior Israeli official who warned her not to go back to her hotel. Assassins were waiting there for her and her husband, the official said. Soon after, a van with 10 Israeli security officers picked up the couple and took them to the airport, leaving their belongings at the hotel.
Back in Israel, investigators pressed the couple for clues as to the plot against them.
The increased threat against Israelis abroad comes after a series of assassinations of Iranian officials that was attributed to Israel. Last month, a senior member of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei – was killed outside his home in Tehran. Iran vowed to avenge his death.
Israel’s National Security Council then issued a public travel warning for Turkey in late May, saying there was a concrete threat to Israelis by “Iranian terrorist operatives.” Meanwhile, Israeli media outlets reported that more than 100 Israeli citizens in Turkey received direct warnings from security officials who ordered them to return home immediately.
Two Iranian scientists died a few weeks ago and Iran accused Israel of poisoning their food. In addition, two Iranian IRGC Air Force officers died in separate incidents over the weekend. It was reported that the two were involved in developing weapons for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
In light of this chain of mysterious events – and vows of Iranian vengeance – Israeli security and intelligence officials urged the Foreign Ministry to issue a severe travel warning to Turkey. Nevertheless, 43 flights between Turkey and Israel were scheduled to operate on Wednesday, with a total of about 7,900 passengers, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Bennett said that “the security wings of the State of Israel are doing everything to thwart such attacks, and neutralize those who send [the terrorists] in advance.”
Last week, Bennett told a session of the Knesset’s Defense Committee that Israel has adopted a new strategy on how to deal with Iran and the threat it poses to the country's security.
“Israel is operating against the many tentacles of Iranian terror, not only in the way it had been done decades past. The days of Iran having immunity when it strikes against Israel and spreads its terrorism via proxies, are gone. We are operating everywhere and all the time, and will continue to do so,” he said.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.