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ISTANBUL: Turkish and Israeli intelligence agents have foiled an Iranian-led plot to kill a Turkish-Israeli tycoon after a month-long surveillance operation.

The intended victim was Istanbul-based Yair Geller, owner of CNC Advance Technologies, 75 years old. He was targeted in retaliation for the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020, an act Tehran considered an Israeli operation.

Turkey’s national intelligence agency, MIT, said a network of nine hitmen had followed Geller for a long time, taking photos of his daily life, workplace and home in Istanbul. The gang used several Turkish and Iranian phone numbers to avoid detection.

MIT informed its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, of the gang’s plan before it became operational and the two sides worked together to move the businessman to a safe house protected by Mossad agents.

Once Geller was safe, MIT intervened on the hitmen and arrested all but one. Most are Turkish nationals, but the leader of the group is Iranian Saleh Moshtagh Bigohouz. A member of the group, who has close ties to Iranian intelligence, remains at large.

This is not the first time that the Turkish authorities have foiled such an assassination attempt. In 2009, they prevented a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli target in Turkey by implementing high security measures in three major cities.

This attack was planned to avenge the death of Imad Mughniyeh, who was the founding member of the Islamic Jihad organization in Lebanon and the number 2 in the leadership of Hezbollah.

Experts said the timing of the operation to protect Geller was important because it came amid talks between Turkey and Israel to normalize diplomatic relations, adding that Iran may have been motivated to disrupt those talks.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have had four phone conversations this year in a bid to mend frayed ties, and Herzog is expected to visit Turkey soon.

Dr. Nimrod Goren, president of Mitvim, Israel’s Institute for Regional Foreign Policy, said cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence agencies would be beneficial in helping improve bilateral relations.

“It sends a message to the Israeli public that Turkey is not on the Iranian side, that security cooperation between Israel and Turkey is possible, and that improving channels between the countries can bring tangible and positive benefits. save lives,” he told Arab News.

One of the subjects of rapprochement between the two countries is energy, an industry in which Geller operates.

“In recent years, most media reports regarding Israeli-Turkish relations have aired negative news related to the crisis, often portraying Turkey as a security threat to Israel given its ties to Hamas. and Iran,” Goren said.

But Geller’s story delivered the opposite message, as it portrayed Turkey as a potential security ally, he added.

“In this regard, successful intelligence cooperation and the fact that it has been made visible can help rebuild trust, improve perceptions and prepare public opinion for a new chapter in Israeli-Turkish relations. said Goren.

Jason M. Brodsky, political director of United Against Nuclear Iran, agreed that the cooperation between intelligence agencies was a move by Erdogan before Herzog’s visit.

“Turkish-Israeli relations over the past decade have been strained, with Turkey allegedly compromising an Israeli intelligence network working in Iran in early 2012,” he told Arab News.

“This latest episode is an attempt by Ankara to turn the page and build confidence, but there is still a long way to go, especially in curbing Hamas activities in Turkey. This will test this exercise.

Iranian agents have been active on Turkish soil for a long time. They were involved in several kidnapping and assassination attempts and were closely monitored by MIT. Last year, a gang of Iranian spies was captured after being accused of trying to kidnap a dissident Iranian military official.

Another Iranian citizen was arrested last year for helping plan the assassination of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Istanbul in 2019.

An Iranian cell also attempted to kidnap Iranian dissident Shahnam Golshani, leading to another counter-intelligence operation by Turkey which led to the arrest of 11 suspects, including an Iranian national.

Brodsky said there has been an increase in the Turkish government’s disclosure of Iranian intelligence conspiracies in the country in recent years.

“This latest revelation indicates some continuing tension with Tehran amid gas disputes and other irritants in bilateral relations,” he said.

Louis Fishman, associate professor at Brooklyn College, said the failed assassination attempt on Geller in Turkey should not have come as a surprise.

“Turkey has strong economic ties with Israel despite the harsh rhetoric of the past between former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Erdogan. If Iran had succeeded in committing such an act, it would have been considered a huge failure by the Turkish security forces,” he told Arab News.

The intelligence operation also indicated that the cooperation between the security teams was “working at a high level”, Fishman said, adding that it was “another sign that Turkey is really serious about reviving its relations with Israel in the world”. post-Netanyahu era.

“Such reports are important for building trust among the Israeli public, which is still quite skeptical of Turkey’s attempts to mend ties. (But) members of the Israeli government will always want proof that Turkey will limit Hamas activities in Turkey.

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