Turkey has busted up what it says is a major Israeli spy plot on its soil, having arrested 34 suspects on Wednesday alleged to have been plotting attacks on foreigners in Turkey, namely Hamas operatives.
In total, 46 arrest warrants were issued, and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in Istanbul says ongoing efforts are underway to capture the remaining suspects at large. They are all suspected of conducting espionage activities specifically on behalf of the Mossad intelligence agency.
According to statements in Turkish media, “The investigation found that Israeli intelligence was behind activities targeting foreigners residing in Türkiye, from reconnaissance to assaults and abduction attempts.”
However, “No other details are available regarding the investigation, but Mossad was implicated in the past in investigations about attempts to kidnap Palestinians living in Türkiye.”
Indeed Hamas operatives and some of the group’s leadership have long been known to hide out and conduct business in Turkey. Israel has recently vowed to pursue the group’s leadership abroad, possibly in a Munich-style assassination campaign.
In early December, Turkish Intelligence warned of “serious consequences” if Israeli agents tried to seek Hamas members abroad, or especially on Turkish soil. This had been in response to provocative words issued by Ronen Bar, head of Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet. He had said at the time, “The cabinet has set us a goal, in street talk, to eliminate Hamas. This is our Munich. We will do this everywhere, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar.”
Since then, Israel-Turkey relations have deteriorated, almost to the point of complete breakage in official diplomatic relations. President Erdogan has even recently liked his Israeli counterpart PM Netanyahu to Hitler.
As for this current ‘spy round-up’ – Turkish authorities say hundreds of thousands in cash has already been recovered, as well as weapons and munitions:
Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya shared a video of operations jointly carried out by police and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). On a social media post, Yerlikaya said an investigation into international espionage activities led to the operations. “We will not allow espionage targeting our national unity,” Yerlikaya said. The minister said authorities discovered more than 143,000 euros ($157,300) and more than $23,000 in the possession of suspects, along with one pistol and a large amount of munitions.
But in this atmosphere of weekly tit-for-tat denunciations and angry diplomatic displays between Israel and Turkey, it’s also easy to imagine that the arrest of 34 “Mossad spies” is all an exaggerated or even wholly fabricated event being choreographed by Ankara to generate headlines and further trash Israel’s reputation.
#Turkey Hundreds of thousands of people participate in a march in Istanbul, in support of Palestinians amid Israel’s attacks on besieged #Gaza.— WORLD AT WAR (@World_At_War_6) January 1, 2024
”Killer Israel, get out of Palestine," "Our blood, our lives sacrificed for Al Aqsa," and "Greetings to Hamas”pic.twitter.com/jb7PDXBP94
Turkey arresting what are alleged to be Israeli spies and putting them on trial has been somewhat of a recurring event, going back to well before the current Gaza war. A senior Turkish intelligence officer warned on Monday, “In line with our earlier warning that any attempt to operate illegally in Turkey would have grave consequences, we discourage all relevant parties from engaging in similar activities.”