Israeli couple face espionage charges over photo of Erdogan's palace in Turkey

Turkey's official news agency reported that the couple were arrested pending trial for 'political and military espionage'

This photo shows a view of Istanbul's skyline with the Suleymaniye Mosque, in the background, Saturday June 22, 2019. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)
Powered by automated translation

Turkey is considering bringing charges of espionage against an Israeli couple detained in Istanbul on Friday for taking photographs of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s palace.

The authorities are also considering a lesser charge of engaging in acts that harm the country’s national security, Israel's Channel 12 reported on Saturday.

Police detained the couple after a tip-off from an employee working in the Camlica TV Radio Tower on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey's official Anadolu news agency said. A Turkish citizen was also arrested.

They were formally arrested pending trial for “political and military espionage” by an Istanbul court, Anadolu reported.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has identified the Israeli couple as Natalie and Mordi Oknin.

Quoting their lawyer, it reported that they were taking photographs of the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace while on board a ferry. Parts of the palace, on the city’s European side, are used as a presidential working office.

The employee said the couple took photographs of Mr Erdogan’s home from a restaurant at the tower earlier in the week.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has denied the couple work for an “Israeli agency".

His department has been in regular contact with the pair and is trying to organise their release, he said..

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke to their family on Saturday evening. “Officials at the highest level are engaged with this and will continue to take action to quickly bring about a solution,” he said.

Last month, Turkish media reported that 15 people had been arrested on suspicion of working with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The suspects were arrested in September and provided Mossad with information on Turkish citizens and foreign students in the country, according to reports.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that the operation to arrest the group, who it said were all Arabs, was conducted by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation following a year-long counterintelligence operation.

Updated: November 14, 2021, 7:05 AM