Iran, ISIS, Hamas: Why are extremist groups launching threats in Turkey?

N12 reported that 12 terror plots against Israelis in Turkey were foiled in the past two years.

More than a dozen plots against Israelis were foiled in the last two years, Channel 12 reported over the weekend. Further, I24 News reported: “According to the unsourced report, the majority of the plots were linked to the Islamic State jihadist group and targeted Israeli businesspeople on trips to Istanbul.”

This report comes after Turkey also said it stopped a plot by Iran to assassinate an Israeli businessman. That plot included a cell run by an Iranian-based intelligence officer and a Turkish counterpart, reports said.

Online Middle East Eye wrote: “Turkey’s intelligence service uncovered an assassination attempt,” and Turkey had “detained a number of suspects last autumn, Turkish sources familiar with the issue have told Middle East Eye.” Eight people were captured.

They were “led by Iranian operatives following a months-long investigation and surveillance, the sources said.” Supposedly, the plot was in “response to the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,” the report said, citing a Turkish-based Iranian citizen who was responsible.

Last September, Cypriot police were said to have detained an Azeri citizen with a Russian passport who crossed from Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus and traveled to Nicosia, also accused of targeting an Israeli businessman. “The suspect was reportedly arrested shortly after crossing the Agios Dhometios checkpoint in Nicosia,” Ynet reported.

The recent incident in Turkey comes amid claims that Turkey wants reconciliation with Israel. Turkey’s leader is apparently heading to the UAE for meetings and there has been talk in Israeli and Turkish media about a presidential visit to Turkey from Israel. There was a call between Israeli and Turkish foreign ministers, the first for years. This comes in the wake of Turkey’s threats to Israel, the spreading of antisemitic articles and comparing Israel to Nazi Germany at the UN.

These plots in Turkey are in a wider context. Reports said one plot was an Iranian cell and the others were linked to “Islamic State” and extremists. Threats by ISIS against Israel or Israelis were not often reported in the past. Why would ISIS suddenly launch plots against Israelis in Turkey? All we know is that media reports – probably based on the same source – have said this happened.

Other Iranian plots foiled by Turkey are claimed. Reports in Turkish media said 17 people were detained this month as part of an Iranian plot to kidnap a dissident who lived in Zonguldak on the Black Sea. Last October, Turkey’s Daily Sabah reported: “Turkey has detained eight individuals, including two Iranian spies, over a plot to kidnap a former Iranian soldier, security sources said.”

In December 2020, Turkey said it had “detained 11 people involved in the abduction and smuggling to Iran of an Iranian dissident wanted by Tehran in connection with a deadly 2018 attack in southwestern Iran,” Reuters reported.

There are a plethora of plots that are taking place in Turkey by ISIS, Iran and Hamas, as well as, perhaps, other groups. Why are there so many plots there? Turkey is a member of NATO and is supposed to have a sophisticated intelligence service. Many of these “plots” have been discovered by Turkey’s security forces and revealed via Turkish media.

The revelations sometimes make it seem like the reports of the detentions of Iranian plotters are part of Turkey’s intelligence greatness. The plots seem not to be an embarrassment that Turkey is infiltrated by Iranian agents but show its superior security. Turkey busted an Iranian cell in a scene “like a movie,” Turkey’s OdaTV4 reported earlier this month.

If there are so many Iranian plots in Turkey, this must mean Iran feels it can operate in Turkey without consequences. Some point to Turkey’s busting these Iranian cells as evidence of how Turkey is challenging and confronting Iran. That logic doesn’t make sense.

Why was Iran operating in Turkey in the first place? Why does Iran feel free to send teams of agents into Turkey to target individuals? Iran obviously felt it had impunity to infiltrate Turkey for years. That some keep getting scooped up is interesting news.

The reports talk about Turkey’s greatness in stopping them, but without details. When Turkey sent information to the media about the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, numerous details poured out. But with the Iranian plots, we don’t hear about their connections to the highest level of Iran. Iran bears no repercussions.

If Turkey didn’t want Iran acting there, tough follow-up actions would come. Where is Turkey’s expected follow-up boasting? The reports released show off Turkish security greatness, but without discussion of why this happened and who is really to blame.

Consider this: If there are dozens of Iranian agents detained each year in another country, the media would ask tough questions. Iranian plots span a large area from Germany to Denmark and across the Low Countries to France, even against a dissident in the US.

There is other extremist activity in Turkey. Turkey said it detained a top ISIS leader in May 2021 and September 2020. Meanwhile, US raids found the previous two leaders of ISIS living in Idlib next to Turkey’s border. ISIS members from Syria have fled to Turkey. ISIS has also trafficked people to Turkey, including Yazidis they kidnapped in Iraq. Turkey also backed US-sanctioned Ahrar al-Sharqiya extremists in July 2021.

Other allegations about Turkey include a former mafia boss saying arms shipments to Syria were with knowledge of Turkey’s leaders. And DW in Germany reported earlier this month that an “arms dealer who had started to expose Turkey’s clandestine arms trafficking networks was snatched during a Turkish intelligence operation.”

It also should be recalled that Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in 2016 by an off-duty Turkish police officer. Reports in 2016 also alleged that “Russian hitmen” were operating in Turkey. The BBC reported: “A series of assassinations has taken place in Turkey of men from the countries of the former USSR.”

Turkey seems to be an intersection of many extremists and plots. Turkey went from a policy of “zero problems” to a Turkey that not only got involved in Syria but destroyed a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, prodded Azerbaijan to fight Armenia and sent mercenaries to Libya. Turkey threatened Israel, grew closer to Iran and Russia, hosted extremist groups from Syria, threatened Greece, almost broke relations with the UAE and also got into spats with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Today, Turkey wants to repair all the problems it caused, mostly the result of its far-right ruling party’s two decades in power. While Turkish media laud the “movie-like” operations that supposedly stop various plots, it appears Ankara has a lot of work to do to turn the page from being a place of intrigue to being a stable country again.

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