Turkey knew that a team of Iranian agents entered the country in June to assassinate Israelis, before they were arrested, a local newspaper reported.
Turkish daily Sabah Daily published more details on the Iranian plot on Sunday three weeks after Turkish security agencies arrested 8 Iranian nationals in three different locations in Turkey.
The agents, Sabah said, were reportedly sent by a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to Turkey, apparently to avenge a mysterious series of killings and deaths among its personnel in Iran in May and early June. Iran blamed Israel for the incidents as it became more evident that it had penetrated various areas of government institutions.
It is unclear exactly when and how the Iranian agents entered Turkey and gathered in Istanbul. Some may have been members of a “sleeping cell”. But Sabah reports that some have settled into the same hotel where Israel’s former consul general in Istanbul Yosef Levi Sfari and a group of Israeli tourists were staying.
Aware that a dangerous situation was developing, Turkish authorities quietly moved the Israelis to another hotel, Sabah said, but Israeli media at the time spoke of close coordination between Israeli and Turkish security.
In fact, it may have been Israel that informed the Turkish secret service of the Iranian plot. In late May, Israel warned its citizens to stay away from Istanbul and the warning was repeated in the first two weeks of June. In mid-June, news of the foiled Iranian plot appeared in Israeli media, which also claimed that Ankara had warned Tehran not to carry out such operations on its soil, but has so far not publicly accused Iran of planning terrorist attacks.
However, a planned visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was postponed until mid-June amid widespread speculation that the cancellation was linked to the ongoing terror plot controversy. He finally traveled to Ankara in late June, meeting a grim-faced Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president.
Sabah’s report says Turkish security found three handguns with the arrested Iranian team in Turkey, fitted with silencers, and released a photo of the weapons and ammunition, which may indicate that Turkish police shared information about the affair with the newspaper.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke by phone with Erdogan and reportedly thanked him for his close cooperation in derailing the Iranian plot.
Iran has dismissed the accusation of launching a terror plan and said the reports were Israeli fabrications aimed at damaging its ties with Turkey.