This Sunday two gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on the car of a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), assassinating him in broad daylight. Iran has described the act as a terrorist incident and President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed a response to the attack, which is believed to have been carried out by Israel’s Mossad.
A dangerous new development occurred this Sunday, with the assassination of Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, said to be a high ranking member of Iran’s IRGC. The killing took placed in southern-central Tehran, outside the home of Khodaei, when two unidentified gunmen opened fire striking the IRGC member five times according to Iranian State media. Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, later stated that Tehran will pursue “definite revenge” against those responsible for the terrorist incident.
Iran has so far refrained from directly naming any foreign State as having been implicated in the attack, instead stating that “The sworn enemies of the sacred establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran once again revealed their evil nature through the assassination and martyrdom of an IRGC member,” according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile however, Israeli media pundits and those said to have links to Israel’s Mossad were speaking of Israel’s great statement through such an act, something that no official Israeli government or military sources have confirmed.
Just prior to the attack being announced in Iran, the IRGC announced that it had uncovered and arrested an Israeli intelligence network. “Under the guidance of the Zionist regime’s intelligence service, the network attempted to steal and destroy personal and public property, kidnapping and obtaining fabricated confessions through a network of thugs,” the IRGC’s public relations service said.
This assassination in Tehran is the most high profiled case since the Israeli assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, in November of 2020. Since 2010, 6 academics and scientists have been murdered inside Iran, which are believed to have been the work of Israeli Mossad, many in similar shootings to the attack which took place this Sunday. Although there was talk of revenge for the killing of Fakhrizadeh in Tehran, no such publicly acknowledged response ever came, although there are several incidents which have been tied to Iran of attacks on Israel.
Earlier this year, in March, Iran’s IRGC announced that two Iranian nationals had been killed in an Israeli airstrike near Damascus, Syria, prompting Tehran to vow a crushing response. The IRGC then launched 12 ballistic missiles into Mossad bases located in Erbil, Iraq, allegedly killing three and injuring 7. This represented a dramatic shift in the conflict between the Islamic Republic and Tel Aviv, turning a covert tit-for-tat “war between wars”, into an open one. Israel also alleges that Iran’s IRGC have recently attempted to kidnap former Israeli military and intelligence figures overseas.
Although Iranian media are refraining from implicating Israel directly as their main line on the assassination of Iran’s IRGC member this Sunday, Israeli media are all using the phrase “alleged Israeli” assassins or gunmen. Israeli media and security analysts are clearly using this as an opportunity to boast of Israel picking up the pace in its aggression against Iran. Not only this, Israeli media have been publishing information about the IRGC member, alleging he was a key player in the elite Quds Forces – the IRGC’s forces for operating foreign affairs – and that Hassan Sayyad Khodaei operated inside Syria, playing a crucial role against Israel.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “Khodayari’s brazen killing means Israel has expanded its war-between-the-wars campaign and begun targeting IRGC officials on their home turf.” This has been the line maintained across Israeli media, that this was an Israeli operation against Iran and was designed to represent a clear threat to Tehran on its home turf. Israeli media are also speculating that such an order to assassinate a high ranking IRGC member — said to have been friendly with General Qassem Soleimani — was given the direct green-light from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Furthermore, Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, stated this Monday that he has been assured by US defence officials during their latest meeting that the IRGC will remain a designated terrorist organisation in the United States. Although this would be delving into the realm of speculation, assuming that it was an Israeli attack this Sunday, such a statement from Gantz could be a means of sending Tehran a message.
At this point, it is very difficult to determine with any certainty what exactly transpired this Sunday, however, there are clear indicators of Israeli involvement in the attack. This includes the Israeli media’s reaction to the assassination, as well as Israel’s decision to raise the level of alert following the Iranian threat of revenge. It is unlikely that the United States Government was involved, although they may have given a green light to their Israeli counterparts. The US Biden administration allegedly informed Israel, last year, that it wants for Tel Aviv’s assassinations to come to a halt, in order to allow for successful negotiations to take place when it comes to reviving the Iran Nuclear Deal. The US is at this time distracted with the conflict in Ukraine and such a bold move in Tehran would be unlikely at this time.
It is most likely that Israeli intelligence are the masterminds of this assassination plot, however it is not at all likely that Israeli nationals actually carried out the attack themselves. Israel does not like risking the capture of its own nationals, especially inside Iran — if this was to take place then it could spell a political disaster for the Israeli government. Instead, Israeli intelligence often employs Iranians themselves to carry out such plots, or even members of anti-Iranian government terrorist groups. Iranian authorities did not immediately announce they had caught the perpetrators of the attack and even if they do get their hands on those who physically carried out the mission, determining Israeli responsibility could be difficult.
Iran’s “definite response”, if we are to read into the rhetoric, will not likely come in such an open way as we saw earlier this year. Instead, covert operations will likely be Tehran’s route forward. This is just speculation, yet, unless Iran is trying to trick Israel into becoming comfortable and attempting to strike without raising Tel Aviv’s alerts, there won’t likely be any missile/drone strikes on Israel as a result of this. Although this assassination, along with the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, certainly appears to be a strong win for Israel and a projection of power, which could be equalized with an Iranian action of a similar nature, this may not be the course of action Tehran is seeking. The Islamic Republic often calculates the risk to benefit ratio of their responses and has always been moderate in their approach to confronting adversaries so far, this is likely to be what happens here also.