VAN, Turkey — An Iranian pilot who defected to Turkey last year is threatening to seek asylum in Israel and work openly to undermine the regime in Iran if it does not cease what he says are its intimidation tactics against the wife and son he left behind.
Major Ahmad-Reza Khosravi, 39, a pilot in the helicopter unit of the Iranian Security Services, fled Iran to Turkey in March 2015 after he was refused repeated requests to be discharged from the military, requests he made due to ideological differences with the regime. Recently the subject of an apparent kidnap plan to bring him back to Iran, Khosravi has now gone public with his criticism of the Iranian leadership.
In a face-to-face interview with The Times of Israel in the Turkish city of Van where he is now residing, Khosravi said if the regime does not stop threatening his wife and son, who are still in Iran, he will seek to harm the regime in any way he can.
“If you do not leave me alone and stop harassing my family, I will seek asylum in Israel and start fighting you, even with arms,” Khosravi said, in a message to Iran’s leaders that he delivered in the interview with the Times of Israel’s Persian edition.
Born in 1977 in Khomein in central Iran, Khosravi entered the Iranian Police Academy at age of 18 and went on to join the security services’ helicopter unit.
Khosravi told The Times of Israel that after serving 19 years in the Security Services and struggling with the ideological beliefs of the oppressive Iranian regime, he put in a request to be discharged.
“I wanted to resign due to the differences in beliefs and opinions with the regime, and since I do not believe in the religion of Islam,” he said. “I had problems with the regime’s policies, because they are based on deception, duplicity and lies.”
After he tried to resign several times and was rebuffed, Khosravi said, the Iranian security services began to harass him and his family.
“All my actions and my private life were watched and my phone conversations were listened to. I did not have any personal life; even my wife’s phone was under surveillance.”
In the end, under duress and fearing for his life, Khosravi decided to flee the country, and embarked on a daring escape to reach neighboring Turkey.
After crossing the border in March 2015, he managed to secure a meeting with a senior UN official. Khosravi explained that as a member of Iran’s defense personnel he had not been allowed to own a passport, and therefore had to escape Iran with no identification.
“Since I was a military person who had defected from Iran, and therefore my life was in danger, the UN and the Turkish police took care of my issue with extra sensitivity and guarded me very carefully,” he said. “The Turkish police looked after me, and called me every few hours asking about my situation.”
When the Iranian authorities found out he had escaped, they contacted his wife and threatened to have him extradited from Turkey, he said.
In September 2015, Turkish authorities arrested two Iranians who were allegedly sent to Turkey to kidnap Khosravi and return him to Iran.
Abdolsalam Tatari and Mohammad Mohammadian reportedly arrived in Turkey planning to make their way to the city of Van, in eastern Turkey, where Khosravi was residing.
Two weeks ago they were both sentenced by a Turkish court to six years and eight months in jail, according to Turkish media reports. Mohammadian denied the accusation but Tatari acknowledged that an Iranian man named “Hajji” had commissioned him to find “the pilot.”
The Turkish reports on the sentencing do not name Khosravi. Rather, they refer to the pilot by his initials “A.R.K.”
Khosravi said that the regime is worried his defection could inspire other pilots or military officers to do the same.
“I can tell you that there are other pilots like me who are forced to work and live the way they do. But they are not defecting because they fear this dictatorial regime and have to continue working under the hardships imposed by the regime.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.