On Tuesday, Turkish authorities detained 34 individuals suspected of espionage activities for Israel’s Mossad intelligence service. This move is seen as a significant escalation in the complex relationship between Turkey and Israel, especially in the context of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
According to a senior Turkish official, the suspects were allegedly targeting Palestinians living in Turkey. These arrests follow a warning from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month, cautioning Israel against targeting members of Hamas residing outside Palestinian territories, including inside Turkey.
— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) January 3, 2024
Unlike many Western and some Arab nations, Turkey does not classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. Erdogan has even described Hamas militants as “liberators who protect their land,” a view in sharp contrast with allied powers like the U.K., the United States and the European Union which have long classified Hamas as a terrorist group.
The detentions, part of “Operation Mole,” took place across eight provinces, involving raids in 57 locations, including Istanbul. Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya stated that the operation aimed to thwart espionage against Turkey’s national unity and solidarity. The official line from Turkey suggests that the suspects were involved in activities ranging from surveillance and misinformation campaigns to potential assaults and kidnappings of foreign national Palestinians.
Turkey also alleges the suspects are also accused of disseminating false information while conducting robberies and blackmail for Israeli intelligence. Mossad is claimed to have arranged meetings and training for the suspects abroad, using cryptocurrency to obscure financial transactions.
The situation reflects Turkey’s increasing assertiveness in defending its interests and its diaspora, particularly against what it perceives as foreign espionage and interference. The strained relations between Turkey and Israel have been further exacerbated by Erdogan’s recent comparison of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, reflecting deep-seated tensions and divergent political ideologies.
During the raids, authorities reportedly seized significant amounts of foreign currency, an unregistered firearm, and digital materials. The Turkish Interior Ministry also shared footage of the operations, showing the dramatic police raids and the apprehension of suspects.
Turkey has previously arrested individuals on similar charges. In 2022, dozens were detained on suspicion of spying on Palestinian citizens. Last July, Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency arrested seven suspects allegedly working for Mossad.
While the specifics of the case continue to unfold, it is now clear that Turkey is unequivocally asserting its position on the global stage, signaling an ongoing Palestinian alliance.