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Israeli Couple Face Espionage Charges in Turkey

Israeli couple
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has now charged a vacationing Israeli couple with espionage after they took a photo of a palace that was once home to Turkish rulers. Credit: Presidency of the Turkish republic

The vacationing Israeli couple who were arrested in Turkey last week after they took a photo of a palace that was the former residence of the country’s rulers are now facing espionage charges.

The couple, Mordy Oknin and his wife Natali, were on vacation in Turkey when they snapped a photo of Dolmabahce Palace, which was once the home of Turkey’s rulers until 1923.

The building was only recently ruled a no-go area for photography.

The Oknins, who are in their 40s and who own a taxi service in Israel, were detained and later arrested by Turkish authorities for taking the photo from the Çamlıca Tower, which is used for communications.

Israeli couple took photo of former presidential Palace — that is now a museum

The Oknins’ lawyer, Nir Yaslovitzh, told reporters that “Their only offense involves their photographing Erdogan’s palace during an innocent boat trip.”

In an interview with Kan, the Israeli public broadcasting service, Yaslovitzh admitted last Friday that the extension of the couple’s detention “worries me. If a Russian national had taken a picture of the palace, I don’t think Turkey would have arrested him,” he protested, adding “Turkey didn’t even tell Israel’s consul about the incident.”

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reports that a Turkish national who accompanied the couple when they visited the Tower — who has been identified only by the initials İ.A. — was also arrested with the two Israelis.

The Turkish government is now charging him as well with political and military espionage.

Authorities nabbed the couple after a staff member at the Tower allegedly overheard them while they conversed during their visit to the Tower.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett strongly denied that the Oknins were spies, stating that his government is attempting to have the couple released from custody.

The PM stated in a Tweet that he had spoken to the Oknins’ family, keeping them informed of everything that is being done to effect their release.

He stated, “as has already been emphasized by officials, (the Oknins) do not work for any Israeli agency.

“The most senior echelons in Israel dealt with this issue throughout the weekend, led by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and will continue to work tirelessly with the aim of finding a solution as soon as possible,” Bennett said.

Just last month, Turkey detained a total of 15 individuals who now stand accused of having links to an Israeli intelligence service.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Monday that a representative from the Israeli consulate in Turkey will visit the Oknins in the near future.

Although there was no date or time announced for the visit, the Consulate General in Istanbul and the Israeli Embassy in Ankara are working on the specifics of the visit, according to a report in Haaretz. The visit only gained approval from Turkey, however, after what the Ministry called “intense diplomatic efforts in recent days.”

The Foreign Ministry also announced that it would said it send Rina Djerassi, the head of the ministry’s consular division, to Turkey to not only “strengthen” the diplomatic presence in the country but to “advance a number of consular issues” as well.

Both Israel and Turkey recalled their respective ambassadors after former President Trumps’ official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back in 2017, although the Israeli embassy in Ankara is technically open.

It was last Tuesday when the Oknins, who live in the city of Modi’in, were arrested on suspicion of espionage after photographing the Palace. On Friday, their detention was extended by a total of 20 days by Turkish authorities.

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