"Every time the ruling regime is embattled at home, it creates a fake crisis," The Jerusalem Post writes of the Tayyip Erdogan government at a moment of double-digit inflation, a spiraling economy, and international isolation, not to mention a continued low-point in US relations with Biden in the White House.
Israel is charging Ankara precisely with manufacturing a "fake crisis" to distract from problems at home after days ago Turkish authorities arrested an Israeli couple accused of spying. State-run Anadolu news reported last Friday the Israeli couple along with a Turkish citizen were detained after suspicious activity was reported by staff at a restaurant.
The Turkish news outlet described that "An Israeli couple and a Turkish national are facing espionage charges after being arrested for taking pictures of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s residence from the Camlica Tower in Istanbul on Friday." It's reportedly illegal to photograph the compound.
"Staff at the tower’s restaurant section saw the Israelis, identified by the initials N.O. and M.O., and Turkish citizen I.A. taking pictures of Erdogan’s residence," the report said. But strangely the reported focus of their photographs, the waterfront Dolmabahce Palace, is a well-known landmark which hasn't actively served as the president's main office for decades.
A lawyer for the detained Israeli citizens told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that "their only offence involves their photographing Erdogan's palace during an innocent boat trip."
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced Tuesday that "The couple photographed Erdogan’s home; they focused on the house and marked it. "He told a press conference further: "The prosecutor's office estimates that they committed a crime of military and political espionage, but the court will make the decision in the future." All of this suggests it's likely to be a long drawn-out affiar.
With the couple's continued detention into this week, it's created a diplomatic firestorm between Israel and Turkey. The Israeli prime minister is now directly involved, with PM Naftali Bennet saying their release is being sought "around the clock, led by the Foreign Ministry… with an aim to bring the problem to its resolution as soon as possible," according to a statement this week.
An op-ed in The Times of Israel speculates that Ankara is looking to use the Israeli nationas' detention to gain diplomatic and geopolitical leverage over Israel as bargaining chips. Recounting another very recent "spy ring" bust incident, the publication writes:
But the most compelling explanation for Turkey’s behavior ties the detention to an incident in October in which Turkey claimed it had arrested 15 Mossad agents — none of them Israelis — in the country.
"It seems that in exchange for the release of the 15, Turkey demanded something," posited Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, a Turkey scholar at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “And Israel apparently ignored them, apparently said, ‘What do we care? They’re not Israelis. We don’t know them.'”
In order to increase the pressure on Israel to cough up what Turkish intelligence was after, according to this perspective, Ankara found a Jewish Israeli couple to arrest, figuring they would make for more valuable bargaining chips.
Meanwhile Israeli officials also believe Turkey is merely "fishing" for Israeli intelligence information as well, and again - looking to create a distraction from the economic crisis at home.
No part of the Turkish claims seems likely. Israel has far more sophisticated ways of attaining photographs of landmark buildings — which doesn’t seem like an especially pressing intelligence priority — than sending two Israeli citizens to openly take pictures in front of them, while speaking Hebrew and posting details of their trip on social media.
Still, Turkey and Israel have never had a good relationship, given especially Turkey gas remained an outspoken critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, particularly in periods with Tel Aviv orders bombing campaigns over the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas rocket fire.