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Iran says Quds Force deputy chief dead of a heart attack

Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi worked directly under Soleimani, was flagged by Israel for overseeing Hezbollah’s manufacture of precision-guided missiles

Iranian deputy commander of the Quds force of the IRGC, Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)
Iranian deputy commander of the Quds force of the IRGC, Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

The deputy commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has died of a heart attack, Iranian reports said on Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, 65, worked directly under Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani until the latter was killed in a US drone strike last year. Hejazi was named by Israel in 2019 as the official responsible for an Iranian project to manufacture precision-guided missiles for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The Quds Force is an elite and influential group that oversees foreign operations, and Hejazi helped lead its expeditionary forces and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

Born in 1956 in the city of Isfahan, Hejazi joined the Guard after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and came to lead the paramilitary Basij volunteer corps for a decade — a tenure that saw the force transform into a pillar of the country’s security and political apparatus.

Hejazi took up the position of deputy commander of the Quds Force in April of last year after the targeted killing of Soleimani in January 2020. He had been leading the Guard’s paramilitary forces in Lebanon, where Iranian media reported that he joined forces fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

He was, in the past, identified by Israeli media reports as one of the suspected planners of the deadly 1994 bombing at the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.

A graphic by the Israeli military showing IRGC Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, who is allegedly responsible for the Iranian military’s activities in Lebanon, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

In August 2019, when Israel took the rare step of naming Iranian and Hezbollah officials it said were responsible for manufacturing the missiles in Lebanon, it was seen as a tacit threat. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said exposing the details of the program was meant to send a signal to Israel’s enemies.

“We will not stand to the side and allow our enemies to acquire deadly weapons to use against us. This week, I already told our enemies to be careful with their actions. Now I am telling them: Dir balak,” Netanyahu said, using an Arabic phrase meaning, “Watch out.”

Hejazi’s death is another blow to the IRGC in a week, after a blast at the Natanz nuclear plant that has been blamed on Israel.

A bomb early on April 11 blew up the main and backup power supply to the underground enrichment facility at Natanz. It caused damage to various kinds of the 6,000 centrifuges there and set back enrichment for six to nine months, according to Israeli and American reports.

In response to the attack, which it attributed to Israel, Iran announced it had begun enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 percent purity at the site — its highest level ever, and a short step from weapons grade.

Footage of the Natanz nuclear facility aired by Iranian state TV on April 17, 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

A senior Iranian official said Tuesday that the blast destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Alireza Zakani, the hardline head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

On Sunday, Iranian state TV aired footage from what it said were regular operations at the underground facility at Natanz.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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