ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkish authorities have arrested five Iranian suspects in connection with plotting to attack Israelis ahead of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Turkey on Thursday, Turkish media reported.
Lapid arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoλουlu as the two countries continue efforts to restore ties that have been strained over Turkey’s strong support for the Palestinians.
They were also expected to discuss a recent warning issued by Israel, urging its citizens to avoid traveling to Turkey and urging Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately. The warning said Israeli citizens could be targeted by Iranian attacks.
The warning angered Turkey, whose economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Ankara responded by issuing a statement stating that Turkey is a safe country.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has since said that a joint operation with Turkey has thwarted several attacks that have resulted in the arrest of several suspects on Turkish soil in recent days.
The Hurriyet newspaper reported on Thursday that Turkish authorities had arrested five Iranian nationals on Wednesday on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Israeli citizens in Istanbul. Police confiscated two pistols and two silencers during searches of homes and hotels where the suspects were staying, according to the report.
Lapid’s visit comes amid political unrest in Israel, where the fragile, long-held Bennett government decided this week to dissolve parliament, sparking new elections in the fall. According to the agreement formed by the Bennett coalition government, Lapid is expected to become interim prime minister in the coming days until a new government is formed after the elections.
Developments are deepening a political crisis in Israel, which has held four elections since 2019, each largely in a referendum on the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu hopes to return to power in the upcoming elections, but opinion polls show that, as in previous rounds, he is unlikely to emerge a clear winner.
Turkey, plagued by economic problems, is trying to end its international isolation by normalizing relations with many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations became strained under Erdogan, who is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. The embrace of the Turkish Islamic militant organization Hamas has angered Israel.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power there in 2007.
Nine Turkish activists were killed. Israel has apologized to Turkey for the deaths under a US-brokered deal, but reconciliation efforts have stalled.
Turkey recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the result that Israel responded in the same way. The two countries have not reappointed their ambassadors.
The latest approach came under the leadership of Israel’s most ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, who had several telephone conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and visited Turkey in March, becoming the first Israeli leader to do so. and 14 years. Tsavousoglu visited Israel last month. It was the first official visit by a Turkish official to Israel in 15 years.
Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this exhibition.