Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to take revenge on those responsible for the assassination in broad daylight of a senior military figure at the weekend.
On Sunday at about 4pm local time, Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a member of the Quds force, which is the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards — both designated by the US as terrorist organisations — was killed in front of his house in downtown Tehran.
Pictures published in local media showed the commander’s dead body in his Kia Pride car with his belt fastened. At least two assailants on motorbikes fired five bullets at him, local media said. They later escaped.
“Without any doubt, taking revenge on the criminals is definite,” Raisi told reporters at Tehran airport before leaving for Oman. “Without any doubt, the global tyranny’s hand can be traced to this crime.” It is not clear who carried out the attack but the phrase “global tyranny” is usually a reference to US and Israel.
Tehran and global powers have been in talks over the revival of the nuclear accord that would lead to Iran radically reversing its nuclear programme in return for the US rejoining the pact it abandoned in 2018 and lifting many sanctions on the Islamic republic.
But talks have stalled and western diplomats say the main hurdle is the designation of the Revolutionary Guards and its Quds forces as terrorists. Iran wants the designation lifted. It has also made clear it will continue to support militias across the Middle East.
Iranian authorities have not confirmed what position Khodaei held in the Quds force. But reports in domestic media suggested he had recently returned from Syria, where Iranian forces have helped shore up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Khodaei is reported to have led operations against Israel, which has carried out air strikes against Iran’s forces in Syria.
Iran says it holds an advisory role in Syria and Iraq to help local voluntary forces defend the holy shrines of Muslims. “Those who are defeated by the forces who defend the holy shrines are showing their frustration in these ways,” Raisi added.
The Israeli intelligence service is widely believed in Tehran and western capitals to have been behind some targeted assassinations related to the nuclear programme. The last one happened in November 2020 when an Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, long suspected to be the mastermind of the Islamic republic’s alleged nuclear military programme, was killed.
Between 2010 and 2012, at least four Iranian nuclear scientists were also killed in Tehran. Iran has accused Israeli secret service Mossad of killing its top nuclear scientists.
The assassination that rocked the Islamic republic the most was the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander of the Quds forces, by the US in January 2020 in Baghdad. Iran has said it will take revenge on the US officials — under Donald Trump administration — who engineered the attack.
This year, the Revolutionary Guards claimed responsibility for the March 13 missile attack on what it said was an Israeli intelligence centre in northern Iraq.
That followed an alleged Israeli air strike near the Syrian capital Damascus in the same month that killed two guards’ commanders.
While Iran had previously been reluctant to acknowledge any attack by Israel, it has now promised to respond to any attack on its forces in Syria or assassination attempts inside Iran. “The era of hitting and escaping has come to an end,” said a regime insider. “When Israelis hit us, we will hit back for sure. This is our definite policy.”