The targeted killing of senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei is another chapter in the shadow war between Israel and Iran, and Tehran has already pointed the finger at Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and threatened revenge.
The incident followed a familiar pattern: a drive-by shooting by gunmen who sped away on motorcycles. This is how a series of nuclear scientists were eliminated over the last decade, and each time Iran pointed the finger at Israel. Iranian authorities have announced a manhunt for the assassins, and it is safe to say that, while the motorcycle will be discovered abandoned somewhere, the shooters will be nowhere to be found.
In such an operation, nothing will have been left to chance, both to ensure that those who carry it out escape safely and to avoid any chance they will be linked to whoever ordered the operation.
An operation of this nature requires exceptional intelligence-gathering capability in the target country. It runs the gamut from the creation of a dossier on the target—everything from basic personal details, habits, work routine and leisure activities—to involvement in hostile activities. Assuming that Israel is indeed behind the assassination, the order to carry it out would have had to clear a long line of hurdles within the Mossad, the defense establishment and the political echelon before a green light was given. The government also has to consider political and diplomatic circumstances and then, of course, the issue of timing.
Unlike previous hits carried out on Iranian soil, the target this time was not related to the Iranian nuclear program, but to the Islamic republic’s infamous Quds Force, which is responsible for the export of the Iranian revolution—a euphemism for Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism around the world.
According to an official announcement from Tehran, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was active in Syria and was likely involved in efforts to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah and Iranian militias in Syria, as well as Iran’s attempts to entrench itself on the Syria-Israel border.
If Israel did order the assassination, it is clear that Jerusalem has decided not to limit the campaign against these Iranian efforts to the so-called “campaign between the wars”—the ongoing Israeli military and intelligence effort to disrupt the force build-up of the Iranian-Shiite axis throughout the Middle East—but has now expanded its countermeasures. In this respect, the assassination is a clear signal to Iran—and a very direct one—that Tehran will be made to pay for its actions, even on its own soil.
It is doubtful the Iranians will change their ways, but this does not diminish the importance of such messages. Beyond the immediate operational blow to Quds Force operations—it will take time to find a replacement for such a senior officer and any replacement will need time to find his bearings—the assassination will exert immediate psychological pressure on all top IRGC officers.
As expected, Iran was quick to announce that it had arrested an Israeli “spy ring,” a move that seems to have been intended to reduce public and internal pressure on them due to their failure to keep senior government officials safe—and more important, for bringing the war in Syria home.
Such criticism has grown in Iran in recent years, in particular because Iran has invested what little money it has in foreign countries rather than its own strapped economy. While this criticism troubles the authorities, so far it has not prompted them to stop efforts to arm their proxies in the region. This hit on Iranian soil should at the very least create dilemmas for the ayatollahs regarding the price they will have to pay for doing so.
Yoav Limor is a veteran journalist and defense analyst.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.
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