Iranian scientist and senior army officer found dead in mysterious circumstances amid new wave of tension between Iran and Israel
A military officer and a weapons specialist died in mysterious circumstances in Tehran.
Israel has taken responsibility for the killing of another senior officer, saying it was a “warning” to Iran’s secret Unit 840.
The deaths heighten tensions between Iran and Israel.
A military officer and a weapons specialist have died in mysterious circumstances in Tehran, fueling tensions between Iran and Israel.
The military officer, Colonel Ali Esmaelzadeh, died on Friday in unverified circumstances. The New York Times reported that various sources said his death was either assassination, suicide or an accident.
Esmaelzadeh died just a week after the drive-by shooting and subsequent death of Colonel Sayad Khodaei outside his home in Tehran, another high-ranking officer in the same unit as Esmaelzadeh.
The New York Times reported that an official briefed on official intelligence confirmed that Israel had informed US officials that they were responsible for Khodaei’s killing.
However, the newspaper also reported that two Israeli officials denied that the state had any involvement in Esmaelzadeh’s death.
Esmaelzadeh and Khodaei were both officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force, Unit 840, a group that President Donald Trump has labeled a terrorist organization. Israel claims to carry out missions to kill foreigners abroad, according to The New York Times.
The newspaper also reports that the Israelis informed US officials that Khodaei’s assassination was a wake-up call to halt the operations of Unit 840, of which he was reportedly deputy commander.
In reaction to Khodaei’s death, General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, said in a speech on Monday that “none of the evil actions of the enemy will go unanswered”.
Iran’s state-run Tasnim news agency published a statement from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps regarding Khodaei’s death, in which IRGC spokesman General Ramezan Sharif said that “thugs and remnants of terrorist groups affiliated with global arrogance and Zionism will be punished for their criminal act.”
Amid tensions, Israel on Monday warned citizens against traveling to Turkey as they believe Tehran may seek revenge for the assassination, Reuters reported.
Along with the men’s deaths, Ayoob Entezari, an Iranian aerospace engineer who worked developing missiles and drones, according to The Times of Israel, died under mysterious circumstances in Tehran.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that Entezari died of food poisoning, according to a report by the Iranian website on Saturday.
This followed a New York Times report of a drone attack on a military base near Tehran that left an Iranian engineer dead and another injured.
The enmity between the Jewish state and the Islamic Republic is fueled by multiple geopolitical factors, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – in which Iran has previously advocated a Palestinian intifada to eliminate Israel’s “cancerous tumor” – and Israel’s belief that Iran is building nuclear weapons, although Iran disputes this.
In November 2021, Israeli officials said they were preparing for a potential conflict with Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “if a terrorist regime wants to acquire a nuclear weapon, we must act”.
Oil is another point of contention between the two countries. Israel reportedly attacked at least a dozen Iranian tankers bound for Syria in 2021, a violation of US and international sanctions against the country.
In 2021, Israel accused Iran of intentionally orchestrating an oil spill in an act of “environmental terrorism”. The spill covered 90% of Israel’s 120-mile Mediterranean coastline with around 1,000 tonnes of black tar.
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