The Israeli couple that was arrested this week in Turkey on suspicion of espionage after photographing Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan’s palace are expected to be released and returned to Israel on Friday.
While initial reports suggested that Mordy and Natali Oknin, in their 40s, took the photos from a ferry boat, Turkish media later reported that they were on a tour of the Istanbul Radio Tower – that overlooks the entire city – and photographed Erdogan’s palace, along with the rest of the view, from an observation deck. The president’s residence is located just four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the site.
According to reports, the couple were having lunch at a restaurant located inside the tower and were looking at the photographs together, which drew suspicion from the waiter, who then reported them to the police.
A senior Turkish official confirmed to Israel Hayom that “a waiter working in the tower reporter suspicious behavior on their part.” He also said that “the Israel Consulate in Istanbul is dealing with the issue. I estimate they will be released [Friday].”
Turkish media also said that the case was handed over to Turkey’s counterterrorism bureau and that the two Israelis were expected to appear before a court on Friday.
Eran Perry, the brother of the detained woman, said the couple were touring the Mediterranean country with a Turkish acquaintance.
“The whole story started a year ago,” he said. “My sister and her husband went on a trip [to Turkey] and for a medical procedure and they met a local and have kept in touch ever since. They arranged to hike with him and have been doing so all week.”
According to Perry, the acquaintance has been arrested as well.
Nir Yaslovitzh, an Israeli attorney hired to deal with the matter, has called on Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to work for the release of the couple.
“Their only offense involves photographing Erdogan’s palace during an innocent boat trip. This is a rare instance in which the Foreign Ministry has to do everything that it can so that Israeli citizens don’t find themselves under arrest beyond Israel’s borders, at no fault of their own,” he said.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that it was aware of the situation and was in touch with Turkish authorities.
According to the senior Turkey official, the arrest of 15 agents suspected of spying for Israel has made Turkey more “sensitive” in matters related to espionage. Nevertheless, he said any person would have been taken in for questioning for photographing the President’s Palace, and “the procedure is not intended against Israelis” in particular.
“We welcome Israeli tourists and are happy to see them in Turkey,” he said.