Israel has told the US that it killed a senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who was gunned down in Tehran on Sunday, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed intelligence official.
IRGC Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot five times by two gunmen on motorcycles outside his home. Israel was immediately suspected due to its history of targeted killings inside Iran.
Israeli officials haven’t publicly said they were responsible for Khodaei’s killing. But Israel typically does not officially take credit for attacks inside Iran, and its responsibility is usually revealed by leaks to the media.
Israeli officials claimed to the Times that Khodaei was involved with plots to kidnap and assassinate Israeli civilians and officials around the world. They said he was part of a covert IRGC group known as Unit 840. But Iran denies that Unit 840 even exists, and despite frequent Israeli claims, there is no evidence that Iran has attempted to target Israelis abroad.
According to the Times report, Iranian analysts believe Israel’s claims of IRGC plots to assassinate civilians were likely meant to prevent the US from removing the IRGC’s terrorist designation, which was a major sticking point in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Khodaei’s killing came as negotiations between the US and Iran were stalled and was likely an effort to derail them for good. “These provocations are designed to pressure all sides to call off the nuclear deal or push Iran to react in a way that would be damaging. But Iran always takes the long-term calculative approach,” Gheis Ghoreishi, an analyst close to Iran’s government, told the Times.
Not long after Khodaei was killed, news broke that President Biden finalized his decision not to remove the IRGC from the terror list, which was conveyed to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “I welcome the decision by the US Administration to keep Iran’s IRGC on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list — which is where it belongs,” Bennett said.
Israel had previously launched attacks inside Iran aimed at sabotaging efforts to restore the JCPOA. In April 2021, Israel targeted Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in an attack that came as the Biden administration began indirect talks with Iran aimed at reviving the JCPOA.
The previous known Israeli assassination inside Iran took place in November 2020, when Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed. Fakhrizadeh was targeted during the final months of the Trump administration, and the assassination was seen as a last-minute attempt to provoke a response from Iran while President Trump, a staunch Israel supporter, was still in office.