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Turkey: Police arrest 33 alleged Mossad spies in nationwide sweep

Ankara nabbed the alleged operatives weeks after Israel's Shin Bet chief threatened to hunt down Hamas officials living in the country
The Turkish and Israeli flags on display at the Yad La-Shiryon Tank Museum in Latrun, Israel (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
The Turkish and Israeli flags on display at the Yad La-Shiryon Tank Museum in Latrun, Israel (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkish police have arrested 33 people based in the country for allegedly spying on behalf of Israel, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced on Tuesday. 

Police detained the individuals in Istanbul and seven other provinces on charges of “carrying out international espionage activities” on behalf of the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad.

They were reported to have been tracking foreign nationals residing in Turkey for humanitarian reasons, according to the publicly owned news agency Anadolu Agency. 

The Istanbul Prosecutor's Office alleges police uncovered a network of individuals who intended to carry out reconnaissance, pursuit, assault and kidnapping operations against foreign nationals in Turkey.

Turkish police have previously broken up spy networks targeting Palestinians living in the country.

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However, the most recent arrests follow comments by Ronen Bar, the head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet,  who released a voice recording last month announcing that Israel is determined to kill Hamas leaders “in every location", including Turkey.

“In Gaza, in the West Bank, in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar, everyone,” he said in recordings aired by the Kan public broadcaster in December. “It will take a few years, but we will be there in order to do it.”

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that if they "commit such a mistake", they should know that they will pay "a very heavy price" for it.

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Yerlikaya said the suspects were apprehended at once during an operation code named "Mole".

A senior Turkish intelligence official told Middle East Eye that Ankara wanted to ensure no foreign intelligence agencies could operate in the country without authorisation.

“In line with our earlier warning that any attempt to operate illegally in Turkey would have grave consequences, we strongly discourage all relevant parties from engaging in similar activities in the future,” the officer said

Another person familiar with the issue told Middle East Eye that there were foreigners amongst the detained. 

Footage released by the Turkish interior minister shows the police and Turkish intelligence operation to capture alleged spies working for Israel.

 "We will never allow espionage activities against the national unity and solidarity of our country," Yerlikaya said in a social media post.

"During searches carried out during the operation: 143,830 euros, $23,680, various amounts of cash from different countries, a large number of cartridges and digital materials were confiscated," he added

Yerlikaya said Turkey was determined to fight against organised crime and foreign intelligence organisations. 

Past arrests

Anadolu Agency said that 13 suspects were still at large. Turkey has been systematically conducting similar police operations against individuals allegedly spying for Israel for the last couple of years.

In December, Turkish intelligence and police detained 44 suspects who are believed to have been working for Mossad to spy on Palestinians living in Turkey.

Turkish daily Sabah reported the suspects had been pretending to work as private consultants but their real mission was to monitor Palestinians.

Turkey initially criticised Hamas for the 7 October attack and asked its leaders to temporarily leave the country.

However, Israel’s devastating bombing campaign in Gaza, which has seen at least 22,000 people killed, mostly women and children, has forced Ankara to take a tougher stance on Israel. 

Erdogan has withdrawn Turkey’s ambassador for consultations and said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stand trial for committing war crimes. He also accused the Israeli army of conducting a terror campaign in Gaza. 

Turkey has so far avoided taking punitive steps against Israel, as trade continues and diplomatic channels remain open. 

Editor's note, 2 January: A previous version of this article described Ali Yerlikaya as Turkey's justice minister. This is incorrect, Yerlikaya is the interior minister.

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