Iranian operatives, members of the cells that hunted and had planned to harm Israelis in Istanbul, detailed the structure of their terrorist network during their interrogations in Turkey.
The information they provided incriminated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence apparatus and its commander, Hossein Taib. His exposure, along with the arrest of his operatives, greatly embarrassed the Iranians and led to the decision last week to dismiss him and appoint Mohammad Kazemi in his stead.
The terrorists’ interrogation in Turkey revealed that three separate cells were operating in Istanbul, all under Iranian orders. The cells operated parallel to but completely compartmentalized from one another, each receiving directives directly from Tehran.
The first cell planned to abduct and murder the Israeli ambassador and his wife. Members of the cell told interrogators that they had already begun tracking the two at the time of their arrest. Contrary to the reports in Turkey, the two were not put on a private plane and whisked away to Israel.
The second cell followed a group of Israelis in the city’s Beyoğlu district. Some of the Israelis were warned and left Turkey immediately, others moved to hotels with better security and were closely guarded by Turkish security forces.
The third cell, which consisted of Iranian and Turkish operatives, searched for targets at Istanbul’s main tourist attractions. Its members were arrested during raids on their safehouse and other places across the city.
The main source of the information that lead to the thwarting of these attacks was Israel, though information was also gathered via fieldwork and interrogation of the terrorists themselves. According to senior officials, the public warnings and reports published a week prior to the arrests in Istanbul led the terrorists’ handlers in Tehran to “make serious mistakes.”
The suspects will soon face legal proceedings and indictments in Turkey. In Israel, officials intend to use the information from their interrogations for an international campaign presenting Iran as a terrorist state whose agents perpetrate acts of terror across the globe.
However, Israeli officials are pessimistic about the campaign’s odds of success. According to one official, “The main objective of Western countries is to return to the nuclear deal, and they won’t let any background noise bother them along the way.”
Israeli officials say the intelligence and operational cooperation with the Turks was the best thing to emerge from the entire event. They say the Turks were attentive from the outset and “did everything” to prevent the attacks—from allocating hundreds of police officers and intelligence agents and other resources, to permitting Israeli agents to operate on Turkish soil. Indeed, news outlets in Turkey reported that Mossad agents participated in the operation on the ground.
This cooperation exposes the relationship between the Mossad and its Turkish counterpart, MIT. The relationship was maintained even throughout the deep diplomatic crisis between the countries, and has helped foil Islamic State terrorist attacks in Turkey, as well as plans to target Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.