Ankara has been trying to lure Israeli tourists back to Turkey for awhile now but has faced the problem that Israel issued a serious travel advisory to its citizens that warned of an “imminent threat” against Israeli tourists. Yesterday, the Israeli Counter Terrorism Bureau downgraded the travel advisory to its lowest possible level of a “continuing threat” and Israel’s Channel 2 reported that this was due to Turkey acting on Mossad information to thwart an Iranian terror plot against Israeli and Jewish targets in Turkey. The Turkish government had been convinced that the elevated travel advisory was politically motivated rather than security motivated since it was issued following Erdoğan’s strident comments on the situation in Gaza, so the lesser travel warning is a good thing for Turkish-Israeli relations irrespective of whether the Turks are correct in their suspicions or not.
Unfortunately, any good will that this will create may evaporate in light of today’s report in the Turkish press that Israel has been eavesdropping on Turkish pilot communications during military training flights. The report claims that Turkey discovered that Israel had been listening in and now encrypts these conversations to prevent Israeli spying. That the report came out today, one day after Israel’s travel advisory olive branch, is curious timing. It makes me wonder if Israel knew that this would happen and whether the reduced travel warning is an effort to blunt blowback from the Turkish government, which might be pressured into responding now that the news of Israeli espionage is public. Alternatively, it is possible that the news of Israeli spying was leaked by elements within the government that see benefit in a continued war of attrition with Israel. And of course, it is possible that all of this is a coincidence and I am wasting my time trying to see things that aren’t there.
In any event, news of Israeli spying being made public is obviously not a good thing for anyone wishing to see a thaw in relations between the two countries. It almost doesn’t matter whether the report is true or not, since perception and public opinion in both countries often drives the responses on both sides. Let’s just hope that the travel advisory remains low, that the Mossad and Turkish intelligence continue their cooperation behind the scenes, and that this news does not lead to another round of mutual recriminations.