On Sunday, May 22, an IRGC colonel by the name of Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot dead in Tehran by two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike. Earlier today IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif blamed elements in “the global domination system and Zionism” for the assassination.
Insiders said the assassinated colonel’s nom de guerre was “Hunter”, a pseudonym that matched his mission – which, according to Haaretz, was likely a “series of plots against Israeli businesspeople and diplomats.”
Barely three weeks earlier on April 30, Israeli media outlets reported that Mossad had apprehended and interrogated an Iranian national by the name of Mansour Rasouli, on Iranian soil, no less. Rasouli was accused of having led a plot to kill three Israelis. It was later reported that he had been abducted and coerced into giving a false confession.
Whatever the truth of it, this was clearly a humiliating event for the Islamic Republic’s security architecture. Col. Khodaei having been shot in within spitting distance of the Iranian parliament weeks later is even worse. There is also an outside chance that the two incidents may be linked.
Who Was the Assassinated Colonel?
It is understood that Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was born in the city of Mianeh the province of East Azerbaijan in 1972 and joined the Revolutionary Guards in 1987, which means he worked with the IRGC for close to 35 years. Israeli news reports said he was the acting commander of Unit 401 of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force.
In a number of Telegram channels, the assassinated colonel was first identified by the name of Shekarchi (“Hunter” in Persian). That led some people to initially believe he was Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for the armed forces of the Islamic Republic.
A few hours later, however, sources close to the government said “Hunter” had been his “jihadi” pseudonym potentially related to his mission: to identify and hunt down Israelis. Others, however, said that “Hunter” had been his pseudonym in Syria alone; all Quds Force members in Syria apparently use a “jihadi” pseudonym.
It was speculated that his assassination might have been related to his assignments in Syria, including the building of missile facilities near the Israeli border. A few hours later, however, he was identified – again in Israeli media – acting commander of the Quds Force’s Unit 840, which is tasked with attacking Israeli interests and citizens abroad.
The Link Between Col. Sayyad Khodaei and Mansour Rasouli
The Rasouli case had come out of the blue. On Saturday, April 30, it was widely reported that Mossad had apprehended and interrogated a 45-year-old Iranian Kurd from West Azerbaijan, inside Iran, who was leading a plot to kill three Israelis.
This was followed up with an audio recording overlaid on a still image of Mansour Rasouli’s face, supposedly featuring the voice of the captive. The man could be heard saying: “They told me three people had to be assassinated. One was with the Israeli embassy in Istanbul, one was an American general in Germany and one was a journalist in France. I am remorseful. I’ll take no action, I swear on the life of my mother, the life of my daughter, the life of my family.”
But a week later, a man that looked fairly similar to Rasouli appeared in another video posted by Iran International, claiming that he was abducted and forced to give a false confession and had since been released.
Then on May 11, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency that Rasouli’s kidnappers had been “arrested by security forces.” And just a few hours before Khodaei was shot on Sunday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps abruptly announced it had arrested several members of an “Israeli intelligence network” involved in “kidnapping and obtaining fabricated confessions” – of the type it was claimed Rasouli was subjected to.
The Israeli TV Channel 13 has now identified Khodaei as the person who had assigned Rasouli the mission to assassinate the Israeli consul in Istanbul.
If the connection between Col. Khodaei and Rasouli is real, it begs the question as to why the colonel moved around Tehran with so little protection in the aftermath of his agent’s confession.
Pointing Fingers at Iraqi Kurdistan - Again
Fars News Agency writes that some minutes before the assassination, a Kia Pride car that had its trunk door open had blocked the entrance from Qaen Avenue to Gholamian Alley and forced nearby cars to divert. Neighbors of Khodaei told Fars they heard the roar of a motorcycle around the same time as they heard a series of shots.
This, however, is all the detail that has been published on Khodaei’s assassination. No official within the Islamic Republic has yet been drawn on what they know. But commenting on the killing, Armed Forces spokesman Abolfazl Shekarchi raised the subject of Islamic Republic’s missile attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan.
Shekarchi repeated a long-standing claim by the Islamic Republic Iraqi Kurds had given Israel control over certain parts of their territory and “this evil deed got a strong response and the results were 100 percent effective and positive.”
On March 13, the IRGC attacked a compound in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, with a reported 10 to 12 ballistic missiles. The Guards claimed that the site was an “Israeli spy center” and “strategic center for Zionist conspiracies”, and that the attack came in response to the killing of two of its colonels by Israel in Syria.
“The headquarters of Israeli espionage in Erbil was hit by missiles and now they are using every trick to overshadow that event,” said Esmail Kowsari, an MP from Tehran and a former IRGC commander.
Theories have now sprouted online that Mansour Rasouli was in fact abducted by a Kurdish opposition group acting on Israel’s orders. But as with everything else in the case so far, the truth of the matter remains a total unknown.
The assassination of Hassan Sayyad Khodaei is different from previous killings on Iranian soil attributed to Israel. All previous assassinations, except that of Abu Muhammad al-Masri, Al- Qaeda’s second-in-command in Tehran in 2020, were in one way or another connected to Iran’s nuclear program. This is the first individual accused of planning targeted attacks on Israeli citizens.
Importantly the rank of colonel, as cited by Israeli media, does not agree with how the IRGC assigns its officers to various positions. A deputy commander of a Quds Force unit is usually termed a general. On the other hand, as mentioned, it seems strange that were he indeed in a senior IRGC leadership position he would travel without a security detail.
A number of media outlets in Iran speculate that Khodaei’s assassination has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program and is a direct message from Israel about Iran’s role in Syria. Some even posited that it came in retaliation for the recent killings of Israeli citizens by Palestinians, which seems unlikely to say the leat.
The assassination of Hassan Sayyad Khodaei might not be as strategically important as that of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in 2020 but it does come at a pivotal moment in the propaganda and proxy war between the two countries. The events of the last month may represent the opening-up of a new front in that conflict.