Turkish minister insists detained Israeli tourists are spies

Israel has unequivocally refuted the charges that the couple were engaged in espionage.

By Benjamin Kerstein, The Algemeiner

Turkey’s interior minister claimed on Tuesday that an Israeli couple detained by Turkish authorities was engaged in “political and military espionage,” a charge Israel vehemently denies.

Natali and Mordy Oknin travelled to Istanbul for a birthday trip and were expected to return on Tuesday. Natali Oknin is said to have taken pictures of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul without knowing that it was illegal, and to have shared them with her family in a WhatsApp group.

The couple was arrested after an employee told the police that they had photographed the residence.

“There is an assessment that we can call this political and military espionage,” said Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported.

“They photographed the presidential residence of president Erdogan and marked it, and security forces who were in the area saw what was happening and intervened,” he continued.

Soylu added that “the court will decide” how to proceed with the case.

Israel has unequivocally refuted the charges that the couple were engaged in espionage.

“These are two innocent civilians who have been mistakenly caught up in a complex situation,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday.

The couple, “as has already been emphasized by officials, do not work for any Israeli agency,” Bennett added.

Nir Jaslowitz, the lawyer representing the couple, met with Mordy Oknin on Monday, Kan reported. “The conditions Mordy is in are not at all simple,” Jaslowitz said. “He was very emotional to see someone who speaks Hebrew. The meeting included not a few tears.”

The attorney is expected to meet with Natali Oknin on Tuesday.

Several Israeli diplomatic representatives have also visited the couple, according to Kan. Consul-General Udi Eitam met with Mordy, while Consul in Istanbul Ronen Levy met with Natali. They reportedly gave the couple clothes and other items.

Their families were then updated on the situation by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz.