An Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer shot and killed outside his Tehran home led the group’s efforts to assassinate opponents of Iran around the world, including recent failed plots to kill an Israeli diplomat, an American general and a French intellectual, according to people familiar with the matter.
The officer, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, planned kidnappings and killings for an arm of the IRCG known as Quds Force Unit 840, the people said. They said he recruited agents to carry out operations globally, including in Colombia and Cyprus, mostly against Israeli targets but also aimed at people from other countries viewed as hostile by Iran.
Col. Khodaei was involved in a foiled plot to kill Israeli businessmen in Cyprus in the fall of 2021, according to some of the people. Cypriot authorities arrested an Azerbaijani national in connection with the alleged plot who was found with a pistol in his possession. The suspect has denied the allegations and is going to trial, according to the Associated Press. Iran denied any involvement in the incident.
Some of the people familiar with the matter said they didn’t know if any of the operations allegedly planned by Col. Khodaei had resulted in any targeted person’s death. No one has claimed responsibility for killing Col. Khodaei.
In a letter to the United Nations on Wednesday, Iran called on the international community to “condemn such brutal assassinations targeting innocent citizens of other countries.” The letter also described Mr. Khodaei as “a member of the Iranian Armed Forces who played a significant role in the fight against terrorism and Daesh in the region.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Without elaborating, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in April that Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, with the help of allied intelligence organizations, had foiled dozens of similar attacks over the past year, all planned by the IRGC.
The prime minister’s office said the Mossad had thwarted efforts to set up hit teams to kill the Israeli diplomat in Turkey, the U.S. general in Germany and a French writer who was identified by people familiar with the matter as Bernard-Henri Lévy.
U.S. military officials declined to comment on the alleged plan to try to kill an American general. Iran’s foreign ministry declined to comment. The Iranian delegation at the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment.
When Israel went public with its allegations that Iran was behind assassination attempts around the world, it cited a videotaped confession from an Iranian named Mansour Rasuli, who Israel said admitted to plotting attacks on the U.S. general, the Israeli diplomat and Mr. Levy. In a subsequent video, Mr. Rasuli denied any involvement, saying he was kidnapped, tortured and forced to admit his involvement in the assassination plots.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday blamed the killing of Col. Khodaei on “global arrogance,” a term usually applied to the U.S., which Iran accuses of supporting hostile acts by its enemies such as Israel. “I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of this martyr on the hands of the criminals is inevitable,” Mr. Raisi said on state television Monday.
The Revolutionary Guard, which is responsible for Iran’s military operations abroad, called Col. Khodaei the “defender of the shrine,” a term used by Iranian media to describe soldiers fighting in Iraq and Syria.
“There is a Cold War between Israel and Iran,” said an Iranian official. “It’s only a matter of time before Iran retaliates.”
Israel has said it would respond to Iranian aggression abroad inside Iran.
“The campaign to weaken Iran has begun,” said Mr. Bennett in a speech in February at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “This campaign is being conducted in multiple fields: nuclear, economic, cyber, overt and covert operations, both by ourselves and in collaboration with others.”
Israel has carried out a series of attacks in recent years that have hit Iran’s nuclear and military programs, according to people familiar with the campaign. Iran accused Israel of killing one of its top nuclear scientists in 2020 and carrying out an attack on its underground nuclear program at Natanz in 2021.
The killing of Col. Khodaei comes amid a yearslong shadow war in the air, land, sea and cyber arenas between Israel and Iran, with Israel expanding its operations in Iran beyond its protracted attempts to stifle the country’s nuclear program. In turn, Iran has struck out more brazenly against what it calls Israeli targets, including a rocket attack earlier this year against alleged Israeli intelligence sites in northern Iraq.