The assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodayari is the latest humiliation for the Iranian regime and comes in the context of Tehran’s increasing drone threats against Israel.
The officer, who reportedly served in Syria and was involved in planning attacks on Jews and Israelis worldwide, was killed outside his home. Graphic photos in Iranian media show his body slumped over in the front seat of his car. Within hours of the announcement, Iranian media claimed to have arrested “thugs related to the Zionist regime’s intelligence service.”
The killing comes eight months after details about the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh were published last September. In February, the BBC reported, “Israel’s Mossad is suspected of high-level Iran penetration.”
In late April, foreign reports emerged that an IRGC official named Mansour Rasouli was nabbed and interrogated by the Mossad in the Islamic Republic. Also in late April, it was reported that the Mossad had prevented an Iranian plot to target Israelis in Turkey. There was also a plot revealed last October that showed Iran trying to target an Israeli businessman in Cyprus.
There have also been numerous Iranian threats to Israel in the last several years involving drones. Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned about Iranian drone bases last November. Tehran has tried to send drones to Venezuela. It opened a drone factory in Tajikistan, and in February, two Iranian drones were intercepted over Iraq by the US-led coalition. Those drones were headed for Israel. This comes after Iran used a drone in May 2021 to target the Jewish state, after Israel used F-35s to shoot down Iranian drones the previous March.
Meanwhile, there are increased tensions with Hezbollah after it used a drone to try to penetrate Israeli airspace this month, and after Hezbollah claimed it flew a drone into Israeli airspace in February. Furthermore, Israel’s recent Chariots of Fire drill was the largest in decades and appears to be part of preparations for potential conflict with Iran and its proxies.
Iran has also been busy, threatening the US and Israel from bases in Syria and Iraq, as well as targeting the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. The attack on Erbil in mid-March was reportedly a message aimed at Jerusalem, with Tehran claiming it had zeroed in on Israeli targets.
This means the larger picture is that Iran continues to try to strike at Israel. But it is Iran that appears to be suffering humiliation at home, since it cannot even defend key members of the IRGC in its own capital.
The recent assassination struck Khodayari in front of his home, according to reports and photographic evidence. Iran’s own IRNA media has admitted this, meaning the regime is openly admitting failure after failure. All Iran can do is posture and claim that its enemies – those working with “global arrogance” – are targeting the Islamic Republic in broad daylight in secure areas of Tehran near parliament.
The picture that emerges is that Iran is more vulnerable than in the past. While the regime’s proxies have grown in power in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, the regime itself appears hollow. It is suffering economic challenges and, besides its drone, missile and satellite programs, has few achievements to show.
Although Tehran is adding centrifuges and enriching uranium, it still faces hurdles in its nuclear program. In some ways, Iran’s problem mirrors that of Pakistan several decades ago: a country on the brink of a nuclear weapon that has severe problems at home.
Iran’s problem is that its proxies have grown too powerful and they face angry backlashes in elections in Lebanon and Iraq. It is forced to backfill the weak Syrian regime, and its conflict in Yemen drags on and on. The only card Tehran can play is to threaten to destabilize the region through drone attacks on places such as the United Arab Emirates.
Iran also knows its adversaries are working more closely together lately, including on naval drills; it can see US Central Command delegations visiting Israel. It knows Hamas has been outfoxed by the Jewish state, stuck in Gaza and unable to break out into the West Bank. And its proxies like Palestinian Islamic Jihad operate only as a way to harass Israel.
The latest assassination illustrates Iran’s hollow threats, and the regime has so far shown it has few ways to directly respond. Reports of Israel’s penetration have also grown, giving Israel more of a spotlight than in the past. That can humiliate Tehran – which can cause it to be more chaotic and risky in its response.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum