ISTANBUL: Turkish security authorities on Wednesday reportedly arrested several people linked to an Istanbul consulting company allegedly involved in targeting Palestinian expats and organizations operating in Turkiye.
As part of an operation launched earlier this week, 44 suspects had been identified as having ties to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Turkiye’s pro-government Sabah newspaper said.
Seven have been jailed, others remain at large, and some are still being investigated by Turkiye’s counter-espionage unit.
The alleged campaign against Palestinian citizens, non-governmental organizations, and institutions based on Turkish soil is thought to have involved threats and damaging reputational remarks made via social media channels, as well as information about them being leaked to Mossad.
Members of the network allegedly received thousands of dollars in exchange for their work, Sabah added.
The founder and president of the Private Detectives Association in Turkiye, Ismail Yetimoglu, was believed to have been among those arrested. He became a private detective in 2003 after 23 years working as a civil servant and opened his company in 2007.
In recent years, counter-espionage investigations have uncovered several networks operating in Turkish territories and working for Russia and Iran to kidnap and assassinate targets in Turkiye.
In June, members of an Iranian cell planning an attack on Israelis were caught in Turkiye as part of a joint operation by police and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
They were said to have been monitoring Israelis after having travelled to Turkiye posing as businesspeople, tourists, and students. However, they had been kept under Turkish surveillance.
In February, MIT also uncovered another Iranian-led plot to kill an Israeli-Turkish businessperson using a network of hitmen.
And in October last year, Turkiye arrested 15 people suspected of providing Mossad with information on possible foreign students from Turkish universities suitable for recruitment to the defense industry.
The network of operatives working for Mossad consisted of five separate cells with three people in each.
Turkish authorities have been scrutinizing Istanbul-based consulting firms for some time over claims some were being paid to spy on Palestinians and their non-governmental organizations.
Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News: “This (Wednesday’s) operation demonstrates that Turkiye has a complicated set of calculations and interests that it balances with respect to Israel, Iran, and the Palestinians.
“It cracks down on Iranian terror plots targeting Israelis to appease Jerusalem to improve ties; it permits sanctions evasion; while at the same time trying to portray itself as a champion of the Palestinian people.”
Israel has so far not commented on the arrests or allegations.
Since July, Israel and Turkiye have been working toward improving relations and both countries recently exchanged ambassadors.
Louis Fishman, associate professor at Brooklyn College, said the latest arrests came at a time when Israel and Turkiye were doing their utmost to bring about reconciliation.
“This will only hurt the already strong intelligence-sharing the two countries have, and if there were any truth to it, it would seem like a big gamble for Israel, with little results.
“Still, with the general lack of transparency within Turkish courts, we may never get the full story. Thus, we need to wait and see how this unfolds over the next few weeks,” he added.
There are around 571 Palestinian students studying in Turkiye on Turkish government scholarships, while Palestinians living in Turkiye have launched several NGOs and business institutions in the country such as the Palestinian Friendship Association, and the Palestinian International Charitable Organization in Istanbul.
The number of Palestinians living in Turkiye is estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000.