WSJ: Khodaei planned to kill philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy

Israel said to fear Iran will target Israelis abroad in bid to avenge slain officer

Political and security chiefs hold consultations after leak that pinned shooting of IRGC colonel on Israel; official warnings against travel to UAE, Bahrain, Azerbaijan expected

Mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, shown in the poster, who was killed on Sunday, in Tehran, Iran, May 24, 2022.  (Vahid Salemi/AP)
Mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, shown in the poster, who was killed on Sunday, in Tehran, Iran, May 24, 2022. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Israel fears that Iran could seek to attack Israelis abroad to avenge a senior Iranian military commander who was assassinated in Tehran, and is set to issue recommendations against travel to some destinations that border the Islamic Republic, Channel 12 News reported Thursday.

The concerns came in the wake of leaks tying Israel to the slaying of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Colonel Sayyad Khodai who was killed on Sunday by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle as he sat in his car outside his home. The New York Times cited sources as saying Israel told the US it had carried out the hit.

Israel fears the developments will increase Iran’s motivation to strike Israelis abroad.

Senior government and defense establishment figures held a series of consultation meetings in recent days on the matter and will apparently make a decision soon to reiterate travel advisories against traveling to countries neighboring Iran, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and possibly Turkey.

The government doesn’t intend to issue travel warnings, but rather to stress existing instructions to be cautious, the report said.

An Israeli official told the station there are currently no specific intelligence warnings of attacks. However, the source said that Israelis would be advised to be particularly cautious when visiting Azerbaijan and to avoid visiting the UAE or Bahrain unless it is essential due to the presence of terror infrastructures in those countries.

Illustrative image: A demonstrator holds an anti-Israeli placard at a pro-Palestinians gathering in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

According to the report, Israel was surprised at the leak which is believed to have come from a US source.

There were “lots of phone calls” today between Israel and the US over the leak, the report said, noting that the two sides have now “put the incident behind them.”

However, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the US must provide answers regarding the New York Times report.

“I leave the explanations for our talks with the Americans,” Alon Ushpiz told the Kan public broadcaster.

MK Ram Ben Barak, who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said during an interview Thursday morning on Israel’s 103FM radio station that the incident “mainly harms trust.”

“We have very many close relationships and a lot of cooperation which is all dependent on trust, and when it is violated in some way then it damages future cooperation,” he added. “I hope the Americans investigate the leak and figure out where it came from and why it occurred.”

The Revolutionary Guards denounced Khodai’s killing as a “terrorist act,” blaming it on “elements of global arrogance” — in reference to the US and its allies, including Israel.

The son of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei mourns over his flag-draped coffin during his funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

The spokesman for the joint chiefs of staff of the Iranian armed forces, General Abolfazl Shekarchi, said on Monday that an investigation had been opened into the circumstances surrounding Khodai’s murder.

An unnamed intelligence official told The New York Times on Wednesday that Israeli officials had passed along information about the killing of Khodaei, who was shot dead outside his Tehran home on Sunday.

The report did not specify which country the intelligence official represented, but according to Ynet, the Israeli security establishment believes the source was American and is furious about the leak. Israeli officials told the Hebrew news site that they are demanding answers from their American counterparts, as the New York Times report places responsibility for the killing solely on Israel and absolves the US of having played any role.

According to the Times report, Israeli officials claimed Khodaei was deputy head of the so-called Unit 840, a shadowy division within the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force that carries out kidnappings and assassinations of figures outside of Iran, including against Israelis. Khodaei was specifically in charge of Unit 840’s Middle East operations, but he had been involved in attempted terror attacks against Israelis, Europeans, and American civilians and government officials in Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia, the UAE and Cyprus, in the last two years alone.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that among the targets Khodaei was planning to kill, was French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy arrives at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on May 21, 2019 for a meeting with the French President and other authors and philosophers who signed the tribune “Europe at risk”. (Ludovic Marin / AFP)

His killing was meant to warn Iran that the group should stop its activities, the intelligence official quoted by the Times said.

Israel has made no official comments on the incident and has reportedly raised the security alert level at its embassies and consulates around the world, fearing a retaliatory Iranian attack.

Khodaei’s assassination was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

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