Dozens suspected of spying for Israel detained in Turkey

Those apprehended allegedly involved in 'reconnaissance, surveillance, assault and kidnapping operations'

Turkish police officers secure the site of an attack near the Interior Ministry in Ankara. EPA
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Authorities in Turkey have arrested about three dozen people across the country accused of spying for Israel, a senior intelligence officer and the country’s Interior Minister said on Tuesday.

Turkish police and intelligence forces raided 57 locations across eight provinces, apprehending 33 suspected of working for the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

“Turkish intelligence established that the individuals in question were involved in reconnaissance, surveillance, assault and kidnapping operations and/or plots targeting foreign nationals in Turkey on Mossad’s behalf,” a senior Turkish intelligence officer told The National.

The raids, known as “Operation Mole” also led to the seizure of €143,830, $23,680, an unlicensed gun, and “a large number of cartridges and digital materials,” Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

His post on X, formerly Twitter, was accompanied by a video appearing to show armed Turkish security forces breaking into an apartment and arresting suspects, who were driven away in civilian cars.

Turkish authorities are still searching for 13 more people. Arrest warrants have been granted, a senior intelligence official confirmed.

The arrests come as part of an investigation into international espionage activities being led by the counter-terrorism and organised crime bureau at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.

Turkish authorities did not say if those detained were Turkish nationals. They also did not provide more information about the identity or nationalities of the people that the suspected agents had been allegedly tracking.

“We are determined to ensure that absolutely no foreign intelligence agency can operate on Turkish soil without proper authorisation,” the senior Turkish intelligence official said. “In line with our earlier warning that any attempt to operate illegally in Turkey would have grave consequences, we strongly discourage all relevant parties from engaging in similar activities in the future.”

A senior Israeli official did not comment on the arrests.

Gaza crisis

The incident comes as tensions between Turkey and Israel increase over the war in Gaza. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the conflict in the enclave, where about 22,100 Palestinians have been killed since October.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Istanbul on New Year’s Day against the war, which has displaced about two million people.

Israeli politicians are increasingly calling for Palestinians to be removed from the Gaza Strip to make way for the return of Jewish settlements, which, on occupied Palestinian land, are illegal under international law.

Turkey and Israel have withdrawn their respective ambassadors, although they have not formally downgraded their diplomatic relations.

In May, Turkish media reported that 11 people had been apprehended after being accused of spying for Israel, reportedly focusing on surveillance of businessmen with trade ties to Iran.

Suspected Mossad agents have also been detained in Turkey for tracking Palestinians.

Updated: January 02, 2024, 1:00 PM