Israel expresses gratitude to President Erdogan for putting an end to the tale of Natali and Mordy Oknin, who were imprisoned last week for photographing his Istanbul mansion; the couple expresses gratitude to the ‘entire nation of Israel.’
An Israeli couple detained in Turkey on suspicion of espionage for photographing the president’s palace was released early Thursday morning and returned to Israel aboard a government-provided private plane.
The development brought an end to a week-long ordeal that included concrete fears Mordy and Natali Oknin would spend years in Turkish prison.
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They expressed gratitude to President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Foreign Ministry staff, and “the entire nation of Israel” during a press conference at Ben Gurion Airport. “We desire to be with our family,” they continued.
Bennett and Lapid previously announced their release in a joint statement: “Following cooperative efforts with Turkey, Mordy and Natali Oknin have been released from prison and are on their way home to Israel.”
“We appreciate the assistance of the Turkish President (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) and his government and look forward to welcoming the couple home,” the statement read, adding that Herzog had also made major contributions to efforts to resolve the situation.
Additionally, the statement expressed gratitude to the couple’s family “for their fortitude during this trying time and their cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Bennett was allegedly scheduled to call Erdogan on Thursday to express gratitude for the couple’s release.
The Foreign Ministry dispatched an aircraft and two senior consular officers to return them, and they arrived just after 6 a.m. in Israel.
They then returned to their Modiin home, where they were greeted by a swarm of family and fans, many of whom were wearing t-shirts bearing the couple’s portrait.
While they waited at the airport, Bennett and Lapid chatted with family members.
Bennett stated to their daughter Shiraz, “I promised you we would do everything, and we did.”
Bennett expressed gratitude to the family for their restraint, stating that it was essential in bringing them home. “I wish you quieter days now, and I am relieved they have returned home.”
Herzog greeted them upon their return, tweeting, “How wonderful to have you home. We extend a hearty welcome to you and your family.”
Shiraz, their daughter, told Radio 103FM: “It was our immaculate state that ensured my parents will be with me again.” We only want to express our gratitude to everyone, as my mother holds my hand.”
Shiraz stated that the couple was still recovering from the incident and that the family was “keeping them updated on everything.”
Natali Oknin’s brother, Eran Peri, told the Kan public television that he received a phone call from Lapid informing him that they were returning. There was concern that the legal procedure would continue. We anticipated a sentence of 10-15 years. Simultaneously, we were aware that the administration was making every effort to repatriate them.”
Nir Yaslovitzh, the couple’s lawyer, returned to Israel earlier that night without meeting his clients on Turkish land.
“This is one of the most exciting days of my life,” he remarked. “A small group of people exited the hotel in secrecy. I was taken out of the hotel in the manner of a Mossad agent. I’m drained.”
The couple was arrested last week in Istanbul after photographing Erdogan’s residence while on vacation and sending the image to their family. According to media accounts, thousands of tourists — including Israelis — often photograph the palace.
Initial expectations for a speedy resolution of the dispute were shattered last week when a court ordered them imprisoned for a further 20 days on suspicion of espionage.
The husband and wife were imprisoned separately and allowed sporadic access to an Israeli lawyer and consular officials in Israel.
Natali Oknin appears in an advertising for the Egged bus company, which is recruiting new drivers. (Egged)
Israel has categorically denied that the Oknins, who both work as bus drivers for the Egged company, are spies. Natali had been in numerous Egged advertising campaigns over the years, and their coworkers laughed at the assumption that they were spies.
Apart from its own diplomatic efforts, Israel recruited the assistance of a third country in its efforts to liberate the pair, according to the Haaretz daily. According to reports, the third country exerted pressure on Turkey’s government to release the Oknins.
According to Lior Haiat, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, “no foreign countries were involved in this settlement.”
Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s Interior Minister, stated on Tuesday that the Oknins “focused” on Erdogan’s apartment while photographing and “marking” it.
He told reporters that investigators believe the Israelis engaged in “diplomatic and military espionage,” but “the court will decide.”
The story received extensive prominence in Turkish media on Wednesday. Previously, the local media had made no mention of the arrests, which Israel interpreted as a favorable omen, since it would alleviate public pressure on Turkish officials to detain or demand the couple.
The delicate diplomacy was compounded further by the fact that the two governments lack ambassadors in each other’s countries as a result of long-standing tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem.