An intelligence source said that Israel had informed the United States that it was behind the assassination of a senior Iranian officer in Tehran earlier this week, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
On Sunday, two assailants on a motorcycle fired five rounds at Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei — a member of the elite Quds Force of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] — as he was sitting in his car outside his home in the heart of the Iranian capital.
Khodaei was linked to several attacks against Israelis in Asia, Europe and Africa.
The defense establishment was surprised and outraged by the report, and security sources told Ynet they seek clarifications from Washington on the leak, which they said absolved the United States of any responsibility for the operation.
The defense establishment is closely monitoring Tehran's official threats after the assassination and is concerned that the report will drag unwanted attention to Israeli targets.
According to NYT, Jerusalem informed Washington that Khodaei's assassination was a shot across the bow for the Iranians to cease the operations of the shadowy Unit 840 of its Quds Force, which Israeli sources say is tasked with abductions and assassinations of foreigners around the world, including Israeli civilians and officials.
Israeli officials said Khodaei was the deputy commander of Unit 840, and was involved in planning cross-border plots against foreigners, including Israelis.
They said that he was in charge of the unit’s operations in the Middle East and countries neighboring Iran and had been involved over the past two years in attempted terrorist attacks against Israelis, Europeans and American civilians and government officials in Columbia, Kenya, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus.
Iran has never acknowledged the existence of Unit 840.
However, two sources linked to the IRGC portrayed the assassinated commander as a logistics expert who played a crucial role in the transfer of drone and missile technology to Syria and Iran's proxy in Lebanon Hezbollah. They also said the Hodaei served as an adviser to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, which receive training and weapons from the Islamic Republic.
Thousands of mourners poured into the streets of Tehran on Tuesday to demand revenge and pay their respects to Khodaei.
Iranian officials have blamed "global arrogance," which is code for the United States and Israel, for the killing of Khodaei, whose funeral procession snaked through the main Tehran cemetery as mourners shouted anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans.
A prominent poster hailed Khodaei as a martyr along with Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian general killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020 in Iraq, and featured tattered Israeli, American and British flags.
"Iran is a victim of terrorism," the banner declared, overlaid with the logos of the Mossad and Central Intelligence Agency.
Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami as well as Gen. Esmail Ghaani, leader of Iran's expeditionary Quds Force, attended the funeral.
Ghaani also offered condolences at Khodaei's home on Monday night. Iran's nuclear negotiator visited the scene, underscoring the government's shock. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge. A street in Tehran has already been named after the colonel.
The manner of the slaying evoked previous targeted attacks by Israel in Iran. In November 2020, a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed while traveling in a car outside Tehran.
Meanwhile, an engineer died and another employee was injured after an accident on Wednesday in a research center at the Parchin military site affiliated with Iran's Defense Ministry, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Thursday.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
First published: 09:19, 05.26.22