Israeli tourists in Turkey warned over attack threat from Iran

Special Israeli tourists in Turkey warned over attack threat from Iran
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with Israeli FM Yair Lapid in the Knesset, Jerusalem, Monday, June 13, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 June 2022

Israeli tourists in Turkey warned over attack threat from Iran

Israeli tourists in Turkey warned over attack threat from Iran
  • FM Yair Lapid has warned that Tehran may be plotting revenge attacks on Israeli tourists
  • Yair Lapid: ‘If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible; if you have planned a flight to Istanbul, cancel; no vacation is worth your life’

ANKARA: Israeli tourists in Istanbul have been urged to return home “as soon as possible” amid heightened fears of attacks on holidaymakers by Iranian agents.

Turkish and Israeli security chiefs have recently been successful in collaborating over the threat of Israeli citizens in Turkey being the target of Iran-backed kidnappings or killings.

But Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid has now warned that Tehran may be plotting revenge attacks on pleasure trippers.

Addressing a meeting of lawmakers from his Yesh Atid party, he said: “It’s a real and immediate danger.

“If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible. If you have planned a flight to Istanbul, cancel. No vacation is worth your life.”

Lapid added that all non-essential trips to Turkey should be avoided.

Israel recently alerted Ankara about a potential Iranian plan to abduct and kill Israelis in Turkey.

Last month, Israeli and Turkish security agencies uncovered an Iranian conspiracy to kidnap Israeli tourists in Turkey and foiled an attack at the last moment, according to Israeli media.

In February, the Turkish national intelligence agency, in cooperation with its Israeli counterpart, thwarted another Iranian cell planning to assassinate 75-year-old Turkish-Israeli businessman Yair Geller, in Istanbul.

Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News that Lapid’s warning reflected a concrete and imminent threat to Israelis in Turkey.

He said: “This is an unusual step for Israel’s Foreign Ministry to take, and it reflects the seriousness of the situation. Iran is trying to restore the deterrence equation by expanding its target list, focusing on not just Israeli diplomats and businessmen, but now civilian tourists.

“This likely reflects frustration on the part of Iranian security services after repeated attacks and setbacks. Iran and its proxies have targeted Israeli tourists before, for example in July 2012 when Israeli tourists were killed in the Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria. So, it would not be unprecedented for Tehran to take this step,” he added.

Iranian networks are still believed to be operating inside Turkey in a bid to carry out attacks and kidnappings.

Iran recently accused Israel of assassinating Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Col. Sayyad Khodaei, who was shot dead in the middle of Tehran on May 22. He was believed to be involved in attempts against Israelis.

Turkey is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. The improvement in the political climate between Turkey and Israel after years of crisis over an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, has resulted in an increased number of Istanbul bookings by Israeli travelers.

In March 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up near an Israeli tourist group in the heart of Istanbul on a pedestrian boulevard, killing three of them.

Last year, the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey rose by 57 percent and passed beyond 200,000.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News: “Obviously Iran is looking for opportunities to revenge attacks it believes Israel is behind. Turkey is an ideal location to target Israelis as it is a very popular tourist destination for Israelis.”

She pointed out that Tehran may intend to damage the current rapprochement between Israel and Turkey.

“Israeli and Turkish security services have a long history of cooperation and in fact almost in all the years of crisis between the two countries some level of intelligence cooperation remained and hence this basis of cooperation is now used well to thwart Iranian plans,” Lindenstrauss said.

Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told Arab News that tensions between Israel and Iran were on the rise, and as in the past they were being played out in various countries and regions.

He said: “Apparently, Iran is planning to attack Israelis visiting Turkey, and as this threat becomes more realistic, Israel is stepping up its warning to its citizens.”

Goren noted that the warming of bilateral ties between Turkey and Israel over the last year and the rebuilding of trust, dialogue channels, and practical cooperation had enabled the two countries to tackle the threat together with mutual sensitivity and consideration, eventually leveraging it for an improvement in ties.

“The Israeli travel warning to Turkey does not reflect any negative attitudes toward Turkey. On the contrary, Lapid thanked Turkey for its effort to secure Israelis, and the Israeli government expressed interest around Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit in deepening cooperation on tourism and civic aviation,” he added.

Iranian threats also coincide with the unprecedented efforts by both Turkey and Israel to search for potential bilateral cooperation avenues including on trade, energy, and tourism especially after Israeli president Isaac Herzog made a landmark visit to Ankara in March.

Cavusoglu met with Israeli’s Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej in Jerusalem on May 25 – the first such visit by a senior Turkish official in 15 years.

The ministers agreed to expand direct flights between the two countries as well as develop economic ties. Officials also committed to work on a new civil aviation agreement.

The latest security threat, Goren said, emphasized the need for Israel and Turkey to resume their strategic dialogue on regional affairs, which would be easier to do once full ambassadorial ties were restored, as both nations had successfully cooperated in the past in confronting terror threats.

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters
Updated 9 sec ago

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters
  • Cleric Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari: The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters
DUBAI: An influential Iranian cleric called for tough action on Friday against protesters enraged by the death of a young woman in police custody who have called for the downfall of the country’s leaders.
“Our security is our distinctive privilege. The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters,” said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, a leader of prayers that are held on Fridays in Tehran before a large gathering.
“The people want the death of Mahsa Amini to be cleared up... so that enemies cannot take advantage of this incident.”
Amini, a 22-year-old from the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Her death has caused the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019. The demonstrations have quickly evolved into a popular revolt against the clerical establishment.
Amnesty International said on Friday the government crackdown on demonstrations has so far led to the death of at least 52 people, with hundreds injured.
Amnesty said in a statement it had obtained a copy of an official document that records that the General Headquarters of Armed Forces issued an order to commanders in all provinces to “severely confront” protesters described as “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”.
Despite the growing death toll and crackdown by authorities, videos posted on Twitter showed demonstrators calling for the fall of the clerical establishment.
Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has more than 150,000 followers, posted videos which it said showed protests in cities including Ahvaz in the southwest, Mashhad in the northeast and Zahedan in the southeast, where people were said to be attacking a police station.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
Meanwhile, Iran rejected criticism of its missile and drone attack on Wednesday on the Iraqi Kurdistan region where Iranian armed dissident Kurdish groups are based. The United States called it “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Iran has repeatedly asked the Iraqi central government officials and regional authorities to prevent the activities of separatist and terrorist groups that are active against the Islamic Republic,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told state media.

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
Updated 36 min 59 sec ago

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
  • Ranald Crook, 76, was trapped in the country for 8 years over a commercial dispute
  • His warning follows claims that another Briton was tortured, killed by secret police

LONDON: A British engineer trapped in Qatar for almost eight years over a commercial dispute has urged people to think hard before accepting large salaries to work there, after his own exhausting battle to leave followed the alleged torture and death of another Briton in 2019.

Ranald Crook, 76, was unable to fly home from Qatar because of a series of travel bans imposed on him at the request of former business associates, which left him tangled in legal actions in which every victory of his resulted in the initiating of a new case against him. 

Crook spoke to The Times after reading on Thursday about a former senior vice president of Qatar Airways who was found dead in a Doha hotel room on Christmas Day in 2019 following his arrest and alleged torture by secret police.

Marc Bennett was accused of keeping confidential information belonging to the airline after his resignation in October that year, and was held for three weeks in a state security detention center before being released without charge but banned from leaving the country.

Qatari authorities claimed his death was suicide, but a British coroner found “no evidence of suicidal intent.” The UK Foreign Office urged Qatar on Wednesday to look into the allegations thoroughly.

Not only did Bennett not leave a suicide note or email or text his family and wide circle of friends, but the night before his death he had a video call with his wife and children during which, The Times reported, he was “laughing and joking.”  

Bennett’s widow Nancy said: “There are so many questions. He left here with the whole world ahead of him.”

Crook, who finally returned to the UK at the end of 2021, said he was drained by his ordeal. He warned Britons to think hard before accepting large salaries to work in Qatar, noting that while still in the country, his wife would wake because he had been crying in his sleep.

He added: “If you go to work there, be very careful. Look very carefully at those you’ll be working with and their reputations.

“The accusations are made in five minutes, but it takes years to clear your name. I thought I had been cleared in November 2016, but another case began and another travel ban was slapped on.

“I wasn’t served with any court papers, I found out about the second action by chance in April 2017. There shouldn’t even have been a travel ban but this was Qatar, and these things happen.”

Both the detention of Crook and the circumstances surrounding Bennett’s death have raised further concerns in the build-up to the World Cup in November, and the decision to allow Qatar to host it.

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
Updated 30 September 2022

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
  • EU-Israel Association Council meeting taking place next week after 10-year hiatus
  • Human Rights Watch: European officials should stop ‘reciting empty platitudes’

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has urged the EU and its member states to use next week’s EU-Israel Association Council meeting to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity.

The meeting comes just weeks after Israeli authorities raided and ordered the closing of the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations — some of which receive EU funding — despite objections from the bloc and its member states.

“Europeans should know they’ll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity and outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses,” said Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine director.

“Pretending it’s business as usual with Israel amid escalating repression sends the message that EU condemnation is worth little more than the paper it’s written on.”

Criticized by Palestinian, European and international NGOs, as well as 47 members of the European Parliament, next week’s meeting will mark the first in a decade after they were paused following Israel’s objections to the EU’s position on West Bank settlements.

HRW, however, has said the bloc’s position represents “empty platitudes” that fail to consider the human rights identified as essential within the Association Council.

Alon Liel, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the press earlier this year that as long as the Europeans did not take concrete action, “Israel doesn’t give a damn. It feels very confident this anti-human rights behavior will have no cost in the international arena.”

In May 2021, EU member states abstained or voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of an inquiry to investigate abuses and identify the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite consistent voting to support accountability mechanisms in other contexts.

“The decades-long European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at HRW.

“Instead of reciting empty platitudes, European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel’s apartheid and persecution and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course.” 

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move
Updated 30 September 2022

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move

Arab envoys urge UK PM to rethink Jerusalem embassy move
  • Letter signed by all Arab states, including those that signed Abraham Accords with Israel
  • Liz Truss warned that embassy move could jeopardize free-trade agreement with GCC

LONDON: Arab ambassadors have urged Prime Minister Liz Truss to backtrack on “an illegal and ill-judged” plan to move the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that it could jeopardize a free-trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The comments were made in a private letter sent before her trip to the UN last week. It was signed by all Arab states, including those that signed the 2020 Abraham Accords with Israel.

Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot said: “Any embassy move would be a blatant violation of international law and the UK’s historic responsibilities.

“It undermines the two-state solution and inflames an already volatile situation in Jerusalem, the rest of the occupied territories, and among communities in the UK and worldwide. It would be disastrous.”

It is the understanding that some of the states most inclined to the accords are those particularly concerned, believing that the accords could be thrown into disrepute by the claim that they paved the way for the embassy move.

Given that the pending UK-GCC FTA is seen as central to Truss’s foreign policy for the region, any worries that this may be thrown into doubt could cause a backtrack.

Allies in Europe have also questioned the move, letting the UK know that they consider it unwise, while others have privately speculated that Truss’s decision is based as much on her desire to be perceived as a “disruptor” as it is anything to do with her close ties with Israel.

A former British diplomat told The Guardian: “She seems to think she should ape (former President) Donald Trump (who moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018). The difference is that the US is big enough to get its way in the Middle East. The UK is not.”

The former diplomat added: “If the UK shifted its embassy it would … damage British interests in the Arab world.”

Truss pledged to the Conservative Friends of Israel during her leadership campaign that she would open a review into the location of the UK Embassy, instituting the review last week during a meeting at the UN with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Details of how the review is being conducted inside the Foreign Office have yet to be made public.

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on
Updated 30 September 2022

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on

Yemen truce deadline approaches as wait for peace drags on
  • Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead
  • Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill

SANAA: As a cease-fire deadline in war-ravaged Yemen draws near, civilians hope the truce will be extended — fearing any fresh fighting would wipe out the small gains they have made.
In the rebel-held capital Sanaa, agriculture graduate Loujain Al-Ouazir has been working to raise goats and chicken poultry for three years on a farm on top of one the ancient city’s iconic mud brick tower houses.
Ouazir only managed to make the farm successful in recent months amid the truce, which allowed goods to move more freely and cut the price of supplies.
“Thanks to the truce, the prices of animal feed and fuel have come down,” Ouazir said. “It’s easier to bring in feed and goats from other regions.”
Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the The Coalition has left hundreds of thousands dead and created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A UN-brokered cease-fire, which took effect in April and has twice been renewed, has reduced casualties by 60 percent and quadrupled fuel imports into the rebel-held Hodeida port, more than 40 humanitarian groups said on Thursday.
The truce has largely held, although the rival sides have traded blame over violations.
Ouazir said the relative peace — especially an end to air strikes in Sanaa — has created a safer environment for her business of selling milk and eggs.
“I hope the truce will continue until the war stops completely,” she said, adding that she dreamt of expanding her farm “on the ground, and not on the roof of the house.”
The truce is due to expire on Sunday, with the UN working to ensure each side agrees to extend once again.
Under the truce, commercial flights have resumed from the rebel-held capital Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt, while oil tankers have been able to dock in Hodeida, also under Houthi control.
The series of temporary truces have brought some respite to a people exhausted by eight years of war, where about 23.4 million of Yemen’s population of 30 million rely on humanitarian aid.
But there has been little fundamental progress toward peace.
A seige remains in place on Taiz, a large city in the southwest controlled by the government but surrounded by Houthi forces.
Despite the cease-fire, the main roads around the mountainous city remain shut.
In the center of Taiz, old pickups are packed tight with passengers who want to go to the nearby town of Al-Hawban, taking bumpy back roads through the mountain.
Before the war, it was a simple journey of 15 minutes.
“Now I need four or five hours,” Taiz resident Bassem Al-Sabri said.
Diego Zorrilla, UN deputy humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the truce had improved the situation “in many respects” but “life remains difficult” for the vast majority.
“From a humanitarian point of view, the renewal of the truce on October 2 is a moral imperative,” Zorrilla said.
“Only a resolution of the conflict can allow the economy to recover, lift people out of poverty and reduce humanitarian needs,” he added.
Talks to strike a lasting peace deal and a definitive end to the war remain at a standstill.
In May, the UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the truce “presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past.”
But in view of the stalled peace talks, a key aim of the truce, it has therefore “fundamentally changed nothing” and is proving to be “a failure in certain respects,” said Thomas Juneau, from the University of Ottawa.
“On the Houthi side, there is no serious will to negotiate and therefore to make compromises with the government,” said Juneau.
On the government side, differences between multiple anti-rebel factions have widened.
“We have seen the lines of fracture which were very deep widen, tensions worsen and, in many cases, become violent,” he said.
For Juneau, there is an “absurdity in renewing a truce which does not work,” and which therefore only “delays the return” of violence.
But, he added, “I don’t see any other alternative.”