Israeli officials deny killing alleged spy IRGC colonel who ‘fell off roof’ – report
Officials tell NYT Israel didn’t kill officer suspected of providing intel that led to colleague’s slaying; report comes as it emerges Iran scientist died in unclear circumstances
Two senior Israeli defense officials have reportedly said Israel did not kill a colonel in the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was reportedly suspected of providing information that led to the assassination of a colleague, allegedly by Israel.
Col. Ali Esmailzadeh’s death, reported for the first time on Friday, was the second in two weeks from the unit which oversees Iran’s military operations abroad.
The officials spoke to The New York Times in a report published Saturday, a day after an Iranian opposition website, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that the IRGC had killed Esmailzadeh for espionage.
The Israeli officials who denied Israel had killed Esmailzadeh spoke with The New York Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter on the record.
The Revolutionary Guards have not issued a statement or offered public condolences to Esmailzadeh’s family since his death, The New York Times said, noting that this was unusual.
The newspaper also highlighted the fact that Esmailzadeh’s funeral was held under a media blackout in a small village in his home province, rather than a larger ceremony in Tehran attended by high-ranking officials, as would be expected for an officer of that rank.
According to an Iranian reporter who spoke with The New York Times, security officers swarmed Esmailzadeh’s neighborhood in the days following his death.
The official IRNA news agency said Friday that Esmailzadeh died during an “incident in his residence” days ago in the city of Karaj, some 35 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the capital Tehran. The outlet denied reports that the colonel was assassinated.
Other news channels close to the Guard said Esmailzadeh fell from his rooftop or balcony.
However, Iran International claimed that Esmailzadeh was killed over suspicions he provided information to Iran’s enemies that was used in the assassination of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei days earlier.
The Persian-language outlet is identified with Iran’s political opposition. It was launched in 2017, is based in London and reaches millions of Iranians in Iran and around the world. It is reportedly funded by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional foe.
The Iran International report on Friday said Esmailzadeh was close to Khodaei, who was gunned down in Tehran last month. Both he and Esmailzadeh were members of the IRGC’s so-called Unit 840, a shadowy division within the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force that carries out kidnappings and assassinations outside of Iran.
The report said that after Khodaei’s killing, the IRGC began hunting for security leaks and became suspicious of Esmailzadeh.
Iran International said he was then thrown from his roof, but the IRGC told his family he died by suicide because he was distraught over his separation from his wife. The report cited “sources in Iran.”
Khodaei was shot five times in his car by two unidentified gunmen on motorbikes in the middle of Tehran on May 22. He reportedly was involved in killings and abductions outside of Iran, including attempts to target Israelis.
The head of the IRGC blamed “the Zionists” for Khodaei’s assassination and vowed revenge. Iran often blames Israel for such targeted killings, including those of nuclear scientists over the past years.
Israel, which has not officially commented on the incident, reportedly raised the security alert level at its embassies and consulates around the world, fearing a retaliatory Iranian attack.
An unnamed intelligence official told The New York Times that Israel told US officials it was behind Khodaei’s assassination. However, this was later denied by a senior Israeli lawmaker.
Israel has issued travel warnings for Turkey due to fears of an Iranian response to the assassination. In an unusual move, the National Security Council explicitly identified “Iranian terrorist operatives” as being the source of the threat to Israelis in Turkey and nearby countries.
Khodaei’s assassination was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The New York Times report came hours after it emerged that a scientist died in Iran this week, also under mysterious circumstances. Ayoob Entezari, who held a PhD in aerospace engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, died on Tuesday, reportedly of food poisoning.
There were also unconfirmed reports of the death of a second scientist, Kamran Mulla Por, who worked at the Natanz nuclear facility. Natanz itself has twice been targeted in sabotage attacks, assaults that Iran has blamed on Israel.