Israeli officials were infuriated on Thursday over a leak to The New York Times about an assassination of a senior member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Times reported Wednesday that Israel informed the US that it was responsible for the killing of IRGC Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, who was gunned down in Tehran Sunday.
The Times report cited an intelligence official but didn’t specify which country the official was from. According to Ynet, the Israeli security establishment believes it was an American official, and Israeli officials are demanding answers out of the US as the leak absolves Washington from any involvement in the assassination.
Ram Ben Barak, an Israeli MK who was previously the deputy chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said the leak harms trust with Washington. “We have very many close relationships and a lot of cooperation between us, which all depend on trust, and when it is violated in some way then it damages future cooperation,” he said. “I hope the Americans investigate the leak and figure out where it came from and why it occurred.”
Ben Barak denied that Israel told the US it was behind the killing but didn’t deny that Israel was responsible. “As far as I know, we did not inform anyone or take responsibility, and that is for the best,” he said.
Israel was immediately suspected of the assassination since it has a history of carrying out targeted killings and other attacks inside Iran. Israel rarely officially acknowledges such operations, and it’s typical that its responsibility is revealed by leaks to the media, often by Israeli officials.
Israeli officials claimed to the Times that Khodaei was in charge of a secret covert IRGC group known as Unit 840, which Iran denies exists. The Israelis claim Khodaei was involved in plots to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians and officials around the world, but there’s no evidence Tehran was planning to target Israelis abroad.
Two people affiliated with the IRGC told the Times that Khodaei was a logistics officer who played a key role in transporting drone and missile technology to Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon and advised militias in Syria. Iran has said Khodaei was involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Khodaei’s killing came as negotiations between the US and Iran to revive the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, are stalled. Israel is against the restoration of the agreement, and the assassination was likely an attempt to derail the talks for good.