The warning of Iranian plans to carry out attacks on Israelis in Turkey will remain in place until the potential attackers are either arrested or leave the country. This has yet to happen. In recent days, a number of attacks have been thwarted, but the threat remains. This is not only of concern to Israelis but to the Turks as well, because it obligates them to invest tremendous manpower, intelligence and money in pursuit of terrorist cells in Istanbul.
This effort, which is only partially out in the open, is focused on central entertainment sites and hotels popular with Israeli tourists. The Turks, according to their interlocutors in Israel, have demonstrated that they are serious about thwarting attacks. They understand full well that this is about more than just fragile ties with Israel. It is also about their good name and a substantial source of income from tourism at the start of the summer season.
In recent days, a significant effort has been made to locate and map Israelis who have chosen to ignore the warnings against travel to Turkey. It turns out that half of them fly to the country for a connecting flight and do not leave the airport. For these people, the travel warning is irrelevant because the airport is well protected. The other half is comprised of tourists, a large portion of whom visit Turkey for various medical treatments, including hair transplants and other kinds of cosmetic surgeries. Since the procedures are booked in advance, these Israelis are worried their treatment will be negatively affected if they cancel their trips. As a result, they have decided to fly to Turkey anyway. Still, the warning has made an impact. The medical tourists may fly to Istanbul, but they rush back to their hotel after their treatment and pass on the opportunity to take in the city sights.
At the moment, a fascinating mind game is being played between Israel and Iran. This includes the decision to reveal the identity of the official plotting the attacks: The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence unit, Hossein Taib. Taib has a long record of terrorist activity and intimidation both inside and outside Iran. Those tracking him speak of a vicious commander with a tendency to go for broke, including in this instance.
Taib has been known to security forces in Israel and the West for years. One can assume he is under close watch. But the decision to mark him publicly as the figure behind the current threat also puts a bullseye on his back. It goes without saying that he will now look over his shoulder whenever he leaves his home or sees a passing motorcycle in the street. In an instant, he has gone from the nameless and faceless pursuer to the pursued.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s explicit threat that Israel “is preparing to respond with force in the face of any threat to Israeli citizens everywhere” is also aimed at making the threat personal and instilling fear in Taib and his colleagues in Tehran.
In Israel, officials made clear that as soon as the threat is neutralized, whether through the arrest of a terrorist cell or its departure, the warnings against travel to Turkey will be rescinded. It could take a day or many weeks. It all depends on the Iranians’ determination, the quality of Israeli-Turkish intelligence and cooperation and quite a bit of luck.
No matter how this plays out, and hopefully it ends without an attack, Iran will continue to seek revenge.
The recent series of events attributed to Israel in Tehran, the unrelenting Israeli Air Force strikes on weapons shipments in Syria and the ongoing impasse on the nuclear issue ensure that, as far as Iran is concerned, this summer is going to be a scorcher.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.