Israel has informed the US it was behind the assassination of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force officer in Tehran on 22 May, according to an intelligence official that spoke with the New York Times (NYT).
IRGC Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was in his car near his home in downtown Tehran when armed assailants on two motorcycles shot him five times.
The NYT report claims the assassination was aimed at derailing sanctions-removal talks that seek to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which had given Iran significant sanctions relief in exchange for limiting their nuclear energy program.
Analysts believe that, by killing Khodaei, Israel sought to undermine any possibility for Tehran and Washington to reach a consensus over the issue of the IRGC’s blacklisting as a terrorist organization.
On 25 May, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took to Twitter to hail a decision by the US president to keep the IRGC’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Biden’s move was confirmed by an unnamed senior official who spoke with Politico.
Washington designated the IRGC as an FTO in April of 2019, as part of then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. This was the first time that a country’s military had been added to the blacklist.
Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made an emergency trip to Washington out of fear that Tel Aviv’s closest ally was looking to move forward in the Vienna talks with Iran and EU member states, and that the terms that the US was ready to agree to were “not good for Israel.”
According to the unnamed official that spoke with the NYT, Tel Aviv claims Khodaei was the deputy commander of Unit 840, a covert group they allege is behind “abductions and assassinations of foreigners around the world, including Israeli civilians and officials.”
Iran has denied the existence of Unit 840.
In the wake of the assassination Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed “definite revenge” for the IRGC colonel, who reportedly was the R&D deputy of Industrial Defense Organization, a key sub-department of the Iranian Defense Ministry, and one of the key minds behind Iran’s drone production line.
A failed assassination attempt against an IRGC general also took place in the Sistan-Baluchestan region on 23 April. A spy ring connected to the Mossad was busted by Iranian intelligence units in the same province just days prior to the attempted assassination.