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Iran says Israeli accusation of plot to harm Israelis in Turkey is 'ridiculous'

Foreign ministry spokesperson says allegations are designed to destroy relations between Turkey and Iran
Lapid said he wanted Israeli citizens to be able to enjoy Istanbul and Antalya’s shores without fear (AFP)

Iran said on Friday that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s accusation of an Iranian plot to harm Israelis in Istanbul was "ridiculous" and aimed at damaging Iranian-Turkish relations.

At a joint news conference in Ankara on Thursday, Lapid thanked his host Turkey for helping abort a suspected Iranian plot against Israelis in Istanbul and said the effort was still underway.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted in a ministry tweet as saying Lapid’s “ridiculous” allegation was a “pre-designed scenario to destroy relations between the two Muslim countries," referring to Turkey and Iran.

During the news conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed his country would never allow attacks against Israeli tourists on its soil.

Cavusoglu's comments came in the wake of reports in Israel's media that Iran was planning to target Israelis in Turkey for either kidnap or assassination.

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“We will never allow such revenge and terror attacks against Israelis in our country,” Cavusoglu said during a presser.

“Necessary messages have already been given [to those who are responsible],” he added, a clear reference to Iran.

Lapid, Israel's upcoming prime minister following the dissolution of the Israeli parliament, thanked the Turkish authorities for their close cooperation against the threat, saying that he wanted his citizens to be able to enjoy Istanbul and Antalya’s shores without fear.

“We have complete appreciation for the Turkish government for this professional and coordinated activity,” Lapid said.

“Iran is behind these attempted terrorist attacks. Intelligence leaves no doubt about it. This is a clear violation of Turkish sovereignty by Iranian terror. We are confident that Turkey knows how to respond to the Iranians on this matter."

'Absolutely unacceptable'

Israeli officials have anonymously been telling Israeli media for the last two weeks that Tehran had been organising attempts to kill or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul in response to the assassination of Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a member of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Turkish media reports on Thursday said that Turkish intelligence and police last week detained a suspected assassination team allegedly working for Iranian intelligence.

The security forces also seized four pistols and two silencers, according to reports. Turkish news wire IHA said the eight-member team had been using rental houses and a hotel as residences and some of them were sent to Turkey under the guise of education and business trips.

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Ankara has been careful not to become part of the long-running fight between Israel and Iran. However, Turkish sources familiar with the issue said that the targeting of the Israeli citizens was a clear red line.

“Iran knows that this is absolutely unacceptable and everyone knows what will happen if any Israelis are hurt in Turkey,” one of the sources said.  

A senior Israeli security source, speaking to Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, said that Turkish authorities informed Israel in advance about the Turkish press reports on the Iranian assassination team and Tel Aviv did not object.

The senior security source said that the arrest of the alleged Iranian cell was an important development but the threat was still there.

“There is more than one squad,” the source alleged.

Iranian state TV reported on Thursday that Hossein Taeb, head of the IRGC intelligence unit, had been removed from his position.

Just days earlier, Israeli media had said he was behind the plans to kill or kidnap Israelis in Turkey.

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