Slain Iranian officer said to have planned attacks against Israelis, Jews worldwide
A senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who was killed in Tehran on Sunday had planned kidnappings and other attempts to attack Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide, according to unsourced reports in Hebrew media.
Col. Hassan Sayad Khodayari was shot five times by two unidentified gunmen in his car in the middle of Tehran, earlier Sunday, according to Iranian state media.
Reports identified him as a “defender of the sanctuary,” a reference to Iranians who carry out Tehran’s operations in Syria and Iraq within the Guard’s elite Quds Force that oversees operations abroad.
Although the Guard gave only scant detail about the attack that occurred in broad daylight in the heart of Iran’s capital, the group blamed the killing on “global arrogance,” typically code for the United States and Israel.
An Iranian official quoted by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera warned that the assassination constitutes “a crossing of the red line,” and that those responsible “will pay a heavy price.”
That accusation, as well as the style of the brazen attack, raised the possibility of a link with other motorbike slayings previously attributed to Israel in Iran, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists. If suspicions regarding Israeli involvement in the attack are true, it would pose a new level of action by the Jewish state against Iran, as Khodayari was not involved in any way in its nuclear program, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Asked about the incident by Channel 12 news, Defense Minister Benny Gantz refused to comment. Approached by Israel’s Channel 12 news as he participated in New York City’s Celebrate Israel Parade, Gantz said, “the State of Israel is very strong. I’m not addressing all the various reports that appear in all sorts of places.”
Little information was publicly available about Khodayari, as Quds officers tend to be shadowy figures carrying out secretive military missions supporting Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, and other militias in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
But according to Channel 13 news, one of the operatives under Khodayari’s direction was Mansour Rasouli.
In April, it was reported that Rasouli, said to be a member of the IRGC, admitted to Mossad agents, during an interrogation at his home in Iran, that he was sent to target an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, as well as an American general stationed in Germany, and a journalist in France.
Channel 12 reported that Khodayari was also behind an attempt — recently uncovered by the Shin Bet — by Iranian operatives to lure Israeli academics, businesspeople, and former defense officials abroad and possibly kidnap them.
That report also said he was behind an alleged plot to kill five Israelis in Cyprus.
Channel 12 also said that Khodayari had recently returned from Syria, where he served under former commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force and celebrated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who himself was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.
An Iranian security source was quoted as saying he also played an “important” role in Iran’s military industry, “especially when it came to drones.”
The IRGC was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by then-US President Donald Trump’s administration, after it withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The elite military unit has been discussed extensively in recent months after Tehran demanded that the group be removed from a US terror blacklist as a condition for returning to compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement.
Israel has urged the US to reject Tehran’s demand, saying the group is “a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans.”
The US has indicated on several occasions that it does not intend to comply with Tehran’s demand, which has left talks in Vienna frozen since mid-March.
Less than a year later, Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in a sophisticated hit, reportedly led by a Mossad team.
The long-running shadow war between Israel and Iran has been bursting into the open in recent months, with more direct attacks attributed to Israel against Iranian targets in Syria and mutual cyberattacks carried out by both nations, threatening to bring the regional rivals to the brink of direct warfare.