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Türkiye arrests dozens suspected of spying for Israel

3 January 2024

Türkiye has reportedly detained 33 people suspected of spying on behalf of Israel. The authorities are still searching for 13 other people believed to have links to Israel’s Mossad security service, reported Anadolu Agency on Tuesday. Ankara has previously warned that it will not allow Israel to strike at Hamas inside Türkiye’s borders.

The suspects were detained in raids in Istanbul and seven other provinces for allegedly planning to carry out activities that included “reconnaissance” and “pursuing, assaulting and kidnapping” foreign nationals living in Turkey, the agency reported.

“We will never allow espionage activities to be conducted against the national unity and solidarity of our country,” Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on social media.

The Anadolu report, however, did not provide information on the suspects, nor the foreigners who were allegedly targeted. The report came weeks after the head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, said in an audio recording that his organisation is prepared to destroy Hamas “in every place,” including in Lebanon, Türkiye and Qatar.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Israel of “serious consequences” if it pressed ahead with its threat to attack Hamas officials on Turkish soil.

Following years of tension, Türkiye and Israel moved towards normalising ties in 2022 as they resumed diplomatic ties. But that detente quickly deteriorated during the Israel-Hamas war, with Ankara becoming one of the strongest critics of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Israel initially withdrew its diplomats from Türkiye over security concerns and later announced it was recalling its diplomats for political reasons, citing “increasingly harsh statements” from Turkish officials. Türkiye also pulled its ambassador from Israel.

Erdogan’s reaction to the Israel-Hamas war was initially fairly muted. But the Turkish leader has since intensified his criticism of Israel, describing its actions in Gaza as verging on “genocide”.

He has called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be prosecuted for “war crimes” and compared him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

The Turkish leader, whose government has hosted several Hamas officials in the past, has also said that the Palestinian group – considered a “terrorist organisation” by Israel, the United States and the European Union – is fighting for the liberation of its lands and people.

The arrests have come amid a spate of arrests by Turkish security forces. In roughly two weeks before the new year, about 500 people suspected of having ties to the ISIL (ISIS) armed group were detained in raids across the country.

The detentions were thought to be part of a drive by Türkiye’s security forces ahead of New Year festivities. An ISIL attack in Istanbul on January 1, 2017, killed 39 people.

At the same time, some have also viewed the uptick in arrests as part of a political push in advance of local elections in March. Analysts say that President Erdogan is eager to win back control of Istanbul, Ankara and other major economic hubs that his AK Party has lost.

 

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