DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran’s hardline president on Monday vowed to avenge the killing of a senior Revolutionary Guards member with a gun in central Tehran, a still-mysterious attack on the country’s powerful paramilitary forces.
Two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike on Sunday afternoon denied responsibility for the killings. They shot Khodai five times in a car, an unarmed budget SAIPA Pride – one of the cheapest, most common Iranian cars.
But the style of unprovoked attack carries the characteristic of previous killings in Iran that have blamed Israel, as targeted by the country’s nuclear scientists.
“I have no doubt that revenge against the perpetrators for the blood of these martyrs has been confirmed,” Raisi said before leaving Tehran for a state visit to the Sultanate of Oman, a strategic Gulf Arab state that has traditionally mediated between Tehran and the West.
His remarks suggest the strength of the carvings and the obscure structure of the guard, which exercises extensive control inside Iran and across the Middle East through allied militias.
The guard identified Khodai as a “guardian of the shrine”, referring to Iranians who have been fighting extremist Islamic State groups in Syria and Iraq, among elite Quds Force operatives abroad.
Although Iran has not yet released any specific biographical information about Khodai, Israeli media simultaneously reported on Sunday night that Khodai had conspired against Israeli diplomats, businessmen and other foreign officials abroad.
News reports, all of which ran without a reason, prompted Israeli intelligence officials to brief reporters about the Iranian colonel. No official comment was received from the Israeli government.
Iran has accused Israel of killing a similar type of motorbike targeting Iranian nuclear scientists a decade ago. Last year, Iran blamed Israel for a particularly high-tech assassination targeting the country’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who masterminded the Islamic Republic’s dismantled military nuclear program. He was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun on a country road.
The carnage comes at a difficult time for the country. Negotiations with the Biden administration, aimed at restoring the shattered nuclear deal, have stalled, apparently over whether the Guard should be stripped of its US terrorism title. The European Union’s envoy for nuclear talks visited Tehran earlier this month in hopes of finding a compromise, apparently without results.
In support of Israel, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions.
Rising inflation, high youth unemployment and rising poverty have led to the imposition of US sanctions on Iran’s economic mismanagement. The Rice administration has fought to stop tailspin.
As Russia’s war against Ukraine and global supply chain snarls mount, the Iranian government last month cut subsidies for imported wheat and raised prices by up to 300% for other food staples.
The move deepens economic frustration and public anger, sparking sporadic protests against the government across the province.
As the Iranian currency, the rial, depreciates and people lose their income as their incomes increase, strikes over pay disputes between bus drivers and teachers have also gained traction across the country. As security forces tried to quell the arrests and officials tried to reduce the unrest, Rice said over the weekend that “tough decisions” needed to be made even if people disagreed.
The Sultanate of Oman, where American and Iranian diplomats quietly drafted the Tehran nuclear deal – signed by Iran and six world powers in 2015 – gave Raisi a royal welcome as he approached Muscat on Monday. He was expected to meet with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said to strengthen ties with the neutral country, known for cleverly navigating the region’s political and communal conflicts.
Naser Karimi, an Associated Press writer in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.