Iran claims to uncover an Israeli spy network

Senior Iran Revolutionary Guards member assassinated in Tehran

Two motorcycle riders shoot Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei in his car, state media reports, suggesting that deceased was a member of Iran’s Quds Force

Family members of Col. Hassan Sayad Khodaei weep over his body at his car after he was shot by two assailants in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2022. (Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA via AP)
Family members of Col. Hassan Sayad Khodaei weep over his body at his car after he was shot by two assailants in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2022. (Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA via AP)

A senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed outside his home in Tehran on Sunday by unidentified gunmen on a motorbike, Iranian state TV reported, giving only scant details of the attack.

Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei “was assassinated during a gun attack carried out by two motorcyclists in Tehran’s Mohahedin-e Eslam Street,” IRNA said.

The two assailants shot Khodaei five times in his car in the heart of the capital, state media said.

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.

Asked to comment on the reports of the killing, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, “I’m not addressing this.” 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.”

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.

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.

Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei (screenshot)

The two assailants shot Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei five times in his unarmored Iranian-made Kia Pride, state media said, right off a highly secure street home to Iran’s parliament.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Little information was publicly available about Khodaei, as Quds officers tend to be shadowy figures carrying out secretive military missions supporting Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group and political party, and other militias in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

The Tehran prosecutor arrived at the crime scene within hours of the killing to investigate and demanded police urgently arrest the perpetrators. The probe’s speed suggested Khodaei’s prominence in the murky structure of the Guard’s overseas operations.

Security forces were pursuing the suspected assailants, state TV reported, without offering further details or giving a motive for the killing.

Around the same time, state-run media said the Revolutionary Guard’s security forces had uncovered and arrested members of an Israeli intelligence network operating in the country, without elaborating on whether they had any connection to Khodaei’s slaying.

A statement issued by the IRGC alleged that those arrested were responsible for attempting to steal and destroy public property, as well as kidnapping targets for the purpose of attaining coerced confessions through the use of a network of bullies.

The IRGC was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by former 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.

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (Stringer/AFP)

Former commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force and celebrated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020, ordered by then-president Trump.

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.

Last month, it was reported that the Mossad had foiled a recent Iranian attempt to assassinate an Israeli diplomat working at the consulate in Istanbul.

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