In a scene that sounds like it was right out of a Hollywood movie, a group of Israeli tourists were whisked away from an Istanbul market this week as an Iranian hit squad hunted them.
According to Israel’s Channel 13, the Israelis received a text message from Israeli security officials warning them to remain in the market until an armored vehicle could be sent to pick them up.
The tourists were instructed to by no means return to their hotel, where an Iranian hit or kidnap squad was already waiting for them.
The Israelis left behind their luggage in the hotel and flew directly to Israel, where they underwent intense questioning as security officials tried to determine why they in particular were targeted, and what the aim of the Iranians might have been.
Turkish security has arrested a number of Iranians of late upon suspicion they were planning to carry out shooting and other attacks against Israelis.
Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, a part of the National Security Council, has raised the travel warning for Istanbul to Level 4—the highest level—on Monday.
The rise in alert status came after the bureau reissued a previous warning from May 30 for the whole of Turkey in light of security concerns regarding Iranian attempts to attack Israeli targets in the country.
“Given the continuing nature of the threat and in light of the increased Iranian intentions to attack Israelis in Turkey, especially Istanbul, the National Security Council has raised the travel warning for Istanbul to the highest level, Level 4,” said the bureau in a statement.
“Accordingly, the NSC calls on Israelis currently in Istanbul to leave the city at the earliest opportunity and on Israelis planning to travel to Turkey to avoid doing so until further notice,” it added.
“It should be recalled that other areas in Turkey are under a Level 3 [intermediate] travel warning; therefore, the NSC recommends that Israelis also avoid non-essential travel to other parts of the country. There is no reason to avoid flights with connections in Istanbul provided that one does not leave the airport,” said the bureau.
Earlier on Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “after a series of attempts to conduct Iranian terror attacks against Israelis who went on vacation in Istanbul, we call on Israelis: Don’t fly to Istanbul, and if you don’t have an essential need, don’t fly to Turkey. If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible.”
With reporting by JNS.