ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday thanked Turkish authorities for their cooperation in allegedly foiling attacks against Israeli citizens in Turkey, and warned Israel would not "sit idly by' in the face of threats to its citizens from Iran.
Lapid made the comments after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, as the two countries press ahead with efforts to repair ties that have been strained over Turkey’s strong support for the Palestinians.
Earlier this month, Israel issued a warning for its citizens to avoid travel to Turkey and urging Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately. The warning said Israeli citizens could be targets of Iranian attacks.
Turkish media reports said authorities had detained five Iranians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis in Istanbul.
“In recent weeks, the lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and (Turkey),” Lapid said. “We are full of appreciation for the Turkish government for this professional and coordinated activity.”
Lapid continued: “For its part, Israel won’t sit idly by when there are attempts to harm its citizens in Israel and around the world. Our immediate goal is to bring about calm that will enable us to change the travel warning to (Turkey).”
The travel warning angered Turkey, whose economy depends on tourism to a large extent. Ankara responded by issuing a statement that said Turkey was a safe country.
Standing next to Lapid, Cavusoglu said Turkey “cannot permit these kinds of incidents taking place in our country.”
“We have delivered the necessary messages,” he said, without elaborating.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that a joint operation with Turkey succeeded in thwarting several attacks and resulted in the arrest of several suspected operatives on Turkish soil in recent days.
Hurriyet newspaper reported on Thursday that Turkish authorities detained five Iranian nationals on Wednesday suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate Israeli citizens in Istanbul. Police seized two pistols and two silencers in searches conducted in houses and hotels where the suspects were staying, according to the report.
Lapid’s visit comes amid political turmoil in Israel, where Bennett’s fragile, year-old government decided this week to dissolve parliament, triggering new elections which are set to take place in the fall. Under the agreement that forged Bennett’s coalition government, Lapid is expected in the coming days to become caretaker prime minister until a new government is cobbled together after the elections.
The developments deepen a political crisis in Israel, which has held four elections since 2019, each largely a referendum over former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule. Netanyahu hopes to return to power in the upcoming vote, but polls show that as in previous rounds it will unlikely produce a clear winner.
Turkey, beset by economic troubles, has been trying to end its international isolation by normalizing ties with several countries in the Mideast, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations grew tense under Erdogan, who is a vocal critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Turkey’s embrace of the Islamic militant group 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 an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power there in 2007.
Nine Turkish activists were killed. Israel apologized to Turkey for the deaths under a U.S.-brokered agreement, but reconciliation efforts stalled.
Turkey recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting Israel to respond in kind. The two countries have not reappointed their ambassadors.
The two ministers said Thursday that they had agreed to hold discussions on re-appointing ambassadors.
The latest rapprochement has been led by Israel’s mostly ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, who has held several telephone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and visited Turkey in March, becoming the first Israeli leader to do so in 14 years. Cavusoglu visited Israel last month. It was first official visit to Israel by a Turkish official in 15 years.
Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report.
Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press