Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi declared that Tehran will level a strong response to the assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Colonel Hassan Sayad Khodaei.
By Erin Viner
“I have agreed for our security forces to seriously follow up on this matter and I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of our martyr will be taken,” Raisi said.
Iranian media agencies reported that operatives linked to Israel’s Mossad intelligence service were responsible for the fatal shooting of Khodaei on Sunday outside his downtown home by two unknown assassins who escaped by motorcycle.
According to the semi-official ISNA news, a so-called network of assailants have been discovered and arrested by the IRGC.
Iranian Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei also insisted those responsible for Khodaei’s death would be punished.
IRGC Spokesman General Ramazan Sharif was cited by the semi-official Mehr news agency as proclaiming that the killing only reinforces the elite force’s determination to confront the Islamic Republic’s “enemies” and to defend Iran’s security and national interests.
“The thugs and terrorist groups affiliated with global oppression and Zionism (Israel) will face consequences for their actions,” he said.
“This inhuman crime was perpetrated by terrorist elements linked to global arrogance,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh declared in a statement. In apparent reference to arch-for Israel, he added, “the sworn enemies of the holy system of the Islamic Republic of Iran once again showed their evil nature with the assassination and martyrdom of one of the members of the IRGC troops.”
Khodai was “one of the defenders of the shrines,” said the semi-official Tasnim news agency, in reference to military personnel and advisors deployed by the Islamic Republic to fight on its behalf “to protect” Shi’ite sites in Iraq or Syria against groups such as Islamic State.
Hebrew media identified Khodaei as a leader of the IRGC Quds Force, which is the overseas wing that executes attacks on Israelis abroad.
Israel, the United States, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have officially designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees the Mossad, declined to comment on the events in Tehran. Jerusalem security sources, however, identified Col. Khodaei was part of an Iranian plot to abduct and murder Israelis that was exposed by the Israel Security Agency (ISA, otherwise known by the Hebrew acronym Shin Bet) last week.
Former Deputy Mossad Chief Ram Ben-Barak, who currently heads the Israeli Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, commented that Khodaei was known to Israeli intelligence. “I don’t want to get into the details of what happened or who did what. An assassination happened. Should I say I’m sorry he’s no longer with us? I’m not sorry,” he said during an interview with the Kan public radio station.
The latest developments come as efforts to re-start Iran’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with world powers have stalled.
Sanam Vakil, deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House told Reuters that Khodaei’s assassination was aimed at destabilizing the Islamic Republic as tensions soar with its arch-foe Israel over Iran’s disputed nuclear advancements.
“Should Israel be responsible for the attack, it is a reminder of Israel’s growing reach and destabilizing capacity inside Iran,” Vakil said.
At least six Iranian scientists and academics have been killed or assaulted since 2010, frequently by assailants riding motorcycles, in incidents believed to target Iran’s disputed nuclear development that Israel and the West believe is is aimed at producing weapons.
Iran has condemned the killings as acts of terrorism. In April, the Islamic Republic’s intelligence ministry announced it had arrested three Mossad spies in a statement published by Fars.
Israel has declined comment on such accusations.
For the past several years, Israel has acknowledged mounting hundreds of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria where the Islamic Republic’s forces and proxy terror groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have become entrenched in deployments aimed at attacking Israel while assisting President Bashar al-Assad battle insurgents in the Syrian Civil War which erupted in 2011.
While the Jewish State rarely confirms such missions, the country’s political and defense leaders have repeatedly stated that Iran’s presence just over the northern frontier will not be tolerated.