An Iranian colonel shot dead in Tehran by assailants on motorcycles has been buried as officials vowed to avenge an assassination that they continue to lay at the feet of Israel.
The murder of Col Hassan Sayad Khodayari is the highest-profile killing of an Iranian official since the violent death of top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020 and appears to fit a pattern of assassinations that began more than a decade ago.
The gruesome death of Khodayari in a car outside his home was also most likely another episode in a series of regional clashes, which have been fought on the waterways of the region, in the skies over Syria, the soil of northern Iraq and on Lebanon’s border, where frequent skirmishes have raised fears of a broader flareup.
Both Iran and Israel have been prepared to take brinkmanship on proxy battlefields to near breaking point. However, the targeted killings of influential Iranian military officers and scientists are the most visceral scenes of a dangerous shadow conflict that has resulted in up to a dozen Iranian officials being killed, many using the same modus operandi of gunmen riding motorbikes and using weapons fitted with silencers.
The Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, on Monday called for the attackers to be caught. “I insist on the serious pursuit of the murderers by security officials, and I have no doubt that the blood of this great martyr will be avenged,” he said ahead of a visit to Oman. “There is no doubt that the hand of global arrogance can be seen in this crime,” he added, using a term used by Iran to describe Israel and the United States.
Iranian officials claimed to have arrested “Zionist agents” but offered no evidence.
Israeli officials offered no official comment on the latest assassination. However, the news was carried widely by Israeli press, who linked Khodayari to an alleged plot to kidnap Israeli diplomats abroad.
Khodayari was a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit tasked with exporting the values of the Islamic revolution into the Arab world and beyond. He had played a central role in military activities in Iraq and Syria, in which Iran has consolidated its presence over the last decade and developed formidable political influence.
He was a close associate of Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian security tsar assassinated in Baghdad by a US airstrike in January 2020. Suleimani’s death sparked a barrage of Iranian ballistic missiles on then US airdbases in Iraq. Iran also fired ballistic missiles earlier this year at a manor near the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, which it claimed had housed Israelis who had used it to launch deadly drone attacks inside Iran.
The tit-for-tat attacks have also taken place on the high seas, where dozens of merchant ships linked to both countries have been attacked with mines, or by drones.
Khodayari’s killing came as negotiations between Iran, the US and Europe to kickstart a stalled 2015 nuclear deal have stagnated since March. Iran had insisted that the Revolutionary Guards be removed from a US terrorism list, but the suggestion has led to fierce opposition from US allies in the region
Central to the deal has been whether Iran intended to use its nuclear program to make nuclear weapons. Tehran has long denied having such intentions, but Israel and the Donald Trump administration claimed otherwise. Trump tore up the deal, leaving Iran to renege on commitments it had given to Obama-era officials. Israel has launched repeated attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites in the past four years.