Iran Dismisses Claims Second IRGC Officer's Death Was Assassination as 'Psychological Warfare'
With two senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) figures falling dead within a week of each other, many observers are concluding their deaths are linked. However, Iranian media is reporting that the probe into Col. Ali Esmailzadeh's death doesn't suggest assassination.
Little is known about Esmailzadeh's death at his home in Karaj on Monday, except that he fell from the roof of his home and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the city's Shahid Madani hospital, with the cause of death being given as suicide. According to IRGC officials, a suicide note was found at his house, saying he was distraught after separating from his wife.
On Thursday, Iran International, an outlet with deep connections to the Saudi government, reported that Esmailzadeh, who served in the IRGC's elite Quds Force, had actually been assassinated by the IRGC. The report was based on anonymous sources.
"In the case of Esmailzadeh, Iran International's sources said that after [IRGC Col. Hassan] Sayyad Khodaei's killing the IRGC intelligence looking for security leaks from within the Qods Force became suspicious of Esmailzadeh and decided to eliminate him by organizing a suicide scenario," the outlet said.
Then on Friday, Iran's state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) ran an article calling reports that Esmailzadeh had been assassinated "psychological warfare."
"What happened on the ground was that a member of the IRGC had lost his life at his own house in an incident; so, relevant authorities are investigating the cause of the incident," the report said, citing an "informed source."
Khodaei, a close friend of Esmailzadeh's, was murdered just a week earlier when two gunmen on motorbikes shot him five times inside his car in central Tehran. Two days after the attack, the New York Times reported, citing "an intelligence official briefed on the communications," that the Israelis had told the Americans that they had killed Khodaei because he was allegedly part of a covert group in the Quds Force called Unit 840, which conducts abductions and assassinations around the globe. Tehran has denied any such unit exists.
MK Ram Ben Barak, who heads the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, denied the NYT report's veracity, but was nonetheless furious about the supposed "leak," saying it harms trust between the two nations.
Khodaei's brutal killing was similar to that of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior Iranian nuclear scientist who was gunned down in broad daylight on the highway outside Tehran in November 2020. Like Khodaei, Fakhrizadeh was reportedly killed by Israel's Mossad foreign intelligence agency, which has been waging an espionage war against Iran's IRGC and its nuclear program, which Israel alleges is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied it has a nuclear weapons program, saying it wants to use the technology to generate electricity and conduct medical research.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge for Khodae's death, the second since Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by a US drone strike outside Baghdad, Iraq, in early January 2020. In that killing, too, Israel played a major role. In December 2021, Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, former chief of the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) Military Intelligence Directorate, told Israeli media in an interview that "Assassinating Soleimani was an achievement, since our main enemy, in my eyes, are the Iranians."
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