ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities have detained five Iranians suspected of planning attacks on Israelis ahead of Thursday’s visit to Turkey by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Turkish media reported.
Lapid arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, as the two countries continue efforts to repair ties that had been strained over Turkey’s strong support for the Palestinians.
They were also expected to discuss a recent warning from Israel urging its citizens not to travel to Turkey and urging Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately. The warning said Israeli civilians could be targets of Iranian attacks.
The warning angered Turkey, whose economy is largely dependent on tourism. Ankara responded by issuing a statement stating that Turkey was a safe country.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has since said a joint operation with Turkey has succeeded in thwarting several attacks and led to the arrest of several suspected agents on Turkish soil in recent days.
The Hurriyet newspaper reported Thursday that Turkish authorities on Wednesday detained five Iranian nationals suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to murder Israeli civilians in Istanbul. According to the report, police seized two pistols and two silencers in searches of homes and hotels where the suspects stayed.
Lapid’s visit comes amid political turmoil in Israel, where Bennett’s fragile one-year government decided this week to dissolve parliament, leading to new elections set to take place in the fall. Under the agreement forged by Bennett’s coalition government, Lapid is expected to become caretaker prime minister in the coming days until a new government is formed after the election.
The developments deepen a political crisis in Israel, which has held four elections since 2019, each largely a referendum on the rule of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu hopes to return to power in the upcoming vote, but polls show it is unlikely to produce a clear winner, as in previous rounds.
Turkey, ravaged by economic problems, has sought to end its international isolation by normalizing ties with several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Israel were once close allies, but relations became tense under Erdogan, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Turkey’s embrace of the Islamist militant group Hamas has infuriated Israel.
The countries withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces stormed a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power there in 2007.
Nine Turkish activists were killed. Israel apologized to Turkey for the deaths under a US-brokered deal, but reconciliation efforts stalled.
Turkey recalled its ambassador in 2018 after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting Israel to respond in kind. The two countries have not reappointed their ambassadors.
The most recent rapprochement has been led by Israel’s mostly ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, who has made several phone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and visited Turkey in March, becoming the first Israeli leader in 14 years to do so. Cavusoglu visited Israel last month. It was the first official visit to Israel by a Turkish official in 15 years.
Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report.