Deaths of Iranian officers probed amid rising tensions with Israel
Some Iranian officials and other experts have said they believe the deaths – which are occurring amid growing international tensions over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs – may be linked.
A commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Monday that the death of one of the “employees” of the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran was due to “industrial sabotage”.
Gen. Mohammad Reza Hasani-Ahangar, commander of the IRGC-affiliated Imam Hussein Military University, was referring to a May 26 explosion at the facility, in which Ehsan Qadbeigi, an engineer working at one of the research units, was killed. Parchin is home to several industrial and research units.
On June 12, Ali Kamani, a junior officer in the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, died in a car accident in Khomein, a city in central Iran, according to a provincial IRGC statement.
The statement offered condolences to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and called Kamani a “martyr” who worked for the IRGC’s Aerospace Force.
A few hours after this announcement, the semi-official Fars news agency reported the death of another aerospace force officer, Mohammad Abdoos, who was “martyred” while on a “mission” in Semnan, a northern province that houses a space launch center.
Abdoos was also called a “martyr” in the report by Fars News, which is known to be close to the IRGC. The report did not provide an explanation of how he died.
“I think [this series of deaths] may indeed be linked, especially in the case of two deaths on the same day,” Farzin Nadimi, associate researcher at the Washington Institute, told ABC News. He specializes in security and defense in Iran and the Gulf region.
Explaining the sensitivity of the IRGC units where Kamani used to serve, Nadimi said the IRGC’s Aerospace Force “operates both ballistic missiles and suicide and armed drones, in what appears to be a logistics base in the central Iran who may have been involved in the IRGC. logistics airlift to Lebanese Hezbollah. »
Abdoos worked at Iran’s Defense Ministry’s Aerospace Organization, which works on the design and development of ballistic and cruise missiles.
“There are a large number of missile development and test centers in Semnan, where he is said to have died ‘in the line of duty,'” Nadimi said.
Both incidents followed another mysterious death of an aerospace engineer. Ayoob Entezari died after being poisoned, his relatives said, saying he received death threats before he died.
Iranian judicial authorities, however, said that he was not a scientist but an ordinary employee of an industrial company and that he died in a hospital after being ill.
The deaths of the aerospace-linked officers came weeks after two other mysterious deaths.
Col. Ali Esmailzadeh, commander of the notorious Quds Force, the IRGC’s external operations unit, died on May 30 after falling from the roof of his house in Karaj, west of Tehran, the agency reported. press of the Islamic Republic.
Esmailzadeh was a colleague of Colonel Hassan Sayyad-Khodaei, who was shot dead in his car outside his home in Tehran in broad daylight on May 22.
General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC, appeared to say that the United States and Israel were responsible for the killing of Sayyed-Khodaei, adding that Tehran would take revenge.
“The enemy, from the heart of the White House and from Tel Aviv, followed him for months and years, from door to door and from alley to alley to kill him… God willing, we take revenge,” he said.
“If these deaths are indeed related and of ‘unnatural’ causes, the Israeli Mossad could be one of the prime suspects,” Nadimi said.
Nadimi added that “we can’t say anything with complete certainty” about the people involved, “as is the nature of this work.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to an ABC News request for comment.
Iran embarked on extensive drone operations against Israel starting in February 2018 when the Islamic Republic launched a drone from Syria. It tried again in 2021, launching two drones from Iraq earlier in the year.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has repeatedly raised Iran’s drone threats over the past year. This report detailed how Iran trained drone operators in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday warned Iranian proxies that they would pay if they participated in Iran’s plots.
“We are currently witnessing Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in various locations overseas,” Bennet said during his weekly cabinet meeting. “Security services are working to thwart attempted attacks before they are launched. We will continue to hit those who send the terrorists. Our new rule is: whoever sends — pays.”
The deaths came amid attempts by international officials to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and world powers.
With negotiations stalled, Iran’s nuclear capabilities, including its level of uranium enrichment, signal the country is the closest it has ever come to making a nuclear weapon, experts warn.
“Iran’s stockpile of uranium is now 60% enriched, close to weaponry about 90% – and in a form that can be further enriched,” the International Atomic Energy Agency told ABC News. at the end of May. “It went from 9.9 kg to 43.1 kg. This number is an approximate quantity for the manufacture of a nuclear explosive device. This possibility cannot be excluded.”
Israel opposes the JCPOA and negotiations to restore it, saying it is “giving in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail”.
“Iran will not just maintain its nuclear program; starting today, they will be paid for it,” Bennett said in an official message in November, amid talks to resume the deal.
The Islamic Republic, which is under tough economic sanctions, said it still wanted to continue the talks.
“Iran will not walk away from results-oriented talks,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Twitter on Friday.
Calling on the United States “to be realistic” and “to abandon the madness of sanctions”, Amirabdollahian urged the IAEA to focus on “technical tasks” instead of adopting a “politicized approach”.
Tehran has accused the IAEA of politicizing its nuclear dossier and referring to “false documents” in the process of verifying its nuclear program, including what Israel provides to the agency.
Israel has openly boasted about the influence of its intelligence operation on Iran’s nuclear program.
On May 31, Bennet uploaded a vast store of secret documents on Iran’s nuclear program and shared the link with public access via his Twitter account, saying, “We got our hands on Iran’s deception plan. .
US State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on June 16 on the possibility that the Iranian deaths were linked. He underscored the White House’s commitment to its allies, saying “Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Tel Aviv announced that it had embarked on a new policy described as a “turning point in Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran”, which it dubbed the “octopus doctrine”.
“Over the past year, the State of Israel has taken action against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against weapons as has been done in previous decades,” Bennett said at the start of the report. month. “The days of immunity, in which Iran attacks Israel and spreads terrorism through its regional proxies but remains unscathed, are over.”
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi has made it clear that Iran is determined to take revenge for the recent deaths.
“I have no doubt that revenge against the criminals for the blood of this martyr is assured,” Raisi said a day after Colonel Sayyad-Khodaei’s death.
The “Iranian regime and in particular the IRGC are certainly currently carrying out a major counter-intelligence operation to identify and get rid of any foreign spies”, Nadimi said, stressing that “these deaths will have no effect on nuclear or regional policy. of Iran”.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday urged Turkish citizens to leave “as soon as possible” in the face of threats that Iranian operatives are actively planning attacks on Israelis in Istanbul.
“Following the events of the past few weeks in Turkey and after a series of attempted Iranian terrorist attacks against Israelis who have gone on vacation to Istanbul, we call on Israelis not to fly to Istanbul and if you have not in vital need do not fly to Turkey,” Lapid said on Twitter.
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