Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) recently uncovered a plot directed by Iran to assassinate an Israeli-Turkish businessperson using a network of alleged hitmen. Yair Geller, an Istanbul-based tycoon with investments in the machine and defense industries was the target of the nine-person network following his every move.
MIT’s counterintelligence branch discovered that Iran’s intelligence agency put together a network in Turkey to target Geller, allegedly in response to the 2020 “assassination” of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in what Tehran deemed an Israeli operation.
Security sources said MIT’s Istanbul Regional Directorate ran a monthslong surveillance operation before recently capturing the members of the network.
The espionage network took photographs of 75-year-old Geller everywhere he went and secretly watched his company headquarters in Istanbul’s Çatalca district and his home in Beşiktaş. Meanwhile, Turkish intelligence operatives were monitoring the gang’s every move and discovered the Iranian agency employed Turkish citizens to avoid detection.
Once MIT concluded that the network had completed the reconnaissance stage of its mission, it reached out to Mossad to inform the Israeli intelligence community that the gang was planning to move on to the next step in their plan: assassinating Geller. Officials from the two intelligence agencies held a secret meeting in the capital Ankara and decided to move Geller to a safe house, where Mossad operatives would provide him protection. Geller turned down Tel Aviv’s offer to resettle him to Israel for his safety, saying he would not leave Istanbul, a city he loves. After moving Geller to the safe house, Turkish security forces launched an operation against the network of spies. Eight suspects were detained and arrested on charges of running a criminal organization and membership of a criminal organization. Most were Turkish nationals except S.M.B., a 44-year-old Iranian man accused of running the network. Y.T., a suspect with ties to the Iranian intelligence service, remains at large and is accused of managing the network from Iran.
Investigations showed that the Iranian network was careful not to get caught, often changing phones and numbers and only communicating with each other online when needed.
Last October, MIT also discovered an espionage network controlled by Mossad and a six-person Russian espionage team planning to assassinate dissidents in Turkey.
Also in 2021, a team of Iranian spies accused of plotting to kidnap a former Iranian military official in Turkey was captured. In February 2021, an Iranian citizen was arrested for helping plan the murder of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in Istanbul in 2019.
Neighbors Turkey and Iran maintain close ties and last year, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu pledged to boost security cooperation between the two countries on human trafficking, terrorism and other issues. Though relations soured over the Palestinian cause, Turkey also seeks close ties with Israel.