Turkish police have placed increased security in the hotel complex that’s home to the many Israelis who returned to visit Istanbul in recent weeks. Nevertheless, following the urgent travel alert that was issued by the Israeli government, many Israelis have cut their vacation short, loaded their luggage, and boarded the shuttle to the airport.
About a week and a half ago, Israel’s National Security Agency issued a level-4 alert––the highest––regarding travel to Turkey due to concrete information about a real threat of Iranian revenge attacks on Israelis––following the assassination of a senior Revolutionary Guards official in Tehran that was attributed to the Mossad. On Sunday it was revealed that Israeli security officials had already thwarted an attempted Iranian attack on Israeli targets on Turkish soil about a month ago. Israeli security officials informed their counterparts in Turkey about the planned attack and asked them to bring down the Iranian terror infrastructure operating in Turkey.
The Israeli security apparatus has been contacting Israeli tourists already in Tukey to deliver warnings. According to reports in Israel’s media, one woman who was visiting the Istanbul marketplace received a phone call from a senior Israeli official instructing her not to return to her hotel because Iranian assassins were waiting for her and her husband there. The couple was whisked into a van with Israeli security personnel and were driven to the airport. They flew home leaving their belongings at the hotel.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, there were long queues of Israeli tourists at Ben Gurion Airport waiting for their flights to Turkey, in defiance of the warnings. Turkish airlines have maintained a clip of 20 daily flights from Tel Aviv to several destinations in Turkey. One of the main reasons cited for this seemingly irrational behavior on the part of vacationing Israelis is the fact that most of their vacation packages are nonrefundable, and in some cases, they stand to lose as much as $15,000 per family.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday repeated the warning that “these days we are witnessing attempts to harm Israelis in various destinations abroad.” He announced that “the security forces of the State of Israel are doing everything in their power to thwart these attacks, and to neutralize their senders and the senders of those senders in advance.”
“We will not hesitate to use the power of the State of Israel anywhere in the world to protect our citizens,” the PM declared.
Last week, Bennett told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel is shifting to a higher gear against Iran, and no longer hesitates to carry out operations within Iran itself.
While Israelis who have already bought vacation packages are forced to take advantage of them or lose their money, new bookings to Turkey have come to a complete stop. Needless to say, the Turkish tourism industry, which experienced the absence of Israeli tourists for more than ten years––since the ill-fated Turkish flotilla in support of Gaza––and was preparing for lavish business starting this summer, is facing a financial crisis instead.
Oz Gur, CEO of Holiday Finder, told Ynet on Tuesday: “Keep in mind that we are at the peak of the tourist season and the rate of holiday bookings for this coming summer is high. Turkey has starred in recent weeks as a leading destination, but the last two days have seen a change in the trend, and Greece has moved to first place, followed by Cyprus.”
“I hope that in the coming days the situation will calm down and security will return to our region, as will the security to leave on a vacation in Turkey, which is indeed an excellent destination for families.”
Matti Karko, a veteran tour guide for Israelis in Istanbul, told News12 that she advises Israelis who remain in Turkey to conceal their identity and avoid speaking Hebrew out in the open. “Israelis need to be a little quieter in Istanbul, be less Israeli,” she said.
Which may be good advice to Israelis in general, year-round…