DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s hard-line president vowed revenge on Monday for the murder of a senior Revolutionary Guard official gunned down in the heart of Tehran the day before, in a still-mysterious attack on the powerful force. country’s paramilitary.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hailed Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei as a martyr and blamed “the hand of global arrogance”, a reference to the United States and its allies, including Israel, for his assassination.
No responsibility has been claimed for the murder, perpetrated on Sunday afternoon by two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike. They shot Khodaei five times in a car, an unarmored SAIPA Pride – among the cheapest and most common Iranian vehicles.
But the style of the brazen attack bore hallmarks of previous killings in Iran blamed on Israel, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.
“I have no doubt that revenge against the criminals for the blood of this martyr is assured,” Raisi said before leaving Tehran for a state visit to the Sultanate of Oman, a strategic Gulf Arab state that serves traditionally mediator between Tehran and the West.
His remarks signaled Khodaei’s prominence in the shadowy Guard structure, which exercises extensive control inside Iran and across the Middle East through allied militias. In another sign of Khodaei’s power, the Tehran City Council announced that it would name a street after him.
The Guard identified Khodaei as a “sanctuary defender”, a reference to Iranians fighting the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq within the elite Quds Force which oversees operations overseas.
While Iran has yet to provide definitive biographical information on Khodaei, Israeli media ran concurrent stories on Sunday evening alleging Khodaei staged plots against diplomats, businessmen and other officials. Israeli foreigners abroad.
The reports, all of which aired without attribution, suggest Israeli intelligence officials briefed reporters on the Iranian colonel. There was no official comment from the Israeli government.
Iran has accused Israel of carrying out similar motorcycle killings against Iranian nuclear scientists a decade ago. Last year, Iran blamed Israel for a particularly high-tech murder that targeted Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s chief nuclear scientist who orchestrated the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program. A remote-controlled machine gun killed him on a country road.
While Tehran reacted with condemnation, officials failed to acknowledge Khodaei’s particular loss to the Guard. Iran will hold a funeral ceremony on Tuesday, local media reported.
Two of Khodaei’s neighbors, shaken by the sound of gunfire on Sunday, told state television they had no idea he was a military man. One, an unidentified woman, told reporters she suspected a brutal robbery when she saw the attacker speeding away from the shattered windows of Khodaei’s car.
Khodaei’s murder comes at a difficult time for the country. Negotiations with the Biden administration to restore the tattered nuclear deal remain deadlocked, reportedly over whether to lift the US terrorism designation on the Guard. The European Union envoy for the nuclear talks visited Tehran earlier this month in the hope of finding a compromise, apparently without result.
With Israel’s backing, former President Donald Trump pulled America out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and reimposed the sanctions.
The stranglehold of US sanctions and government mismanagement has led to runaway inflation, high youth unemployment and growing poverty. Raisi’s administration has struggled to halt the economic downfall.
With growing pressures following Russia’s war on Ukraine and global supply chain issues, last month the Iranian government cut subsidies for imported wheat and raised prices to 300% for other basic foodstuffs.
The move has deepened economic desperation and public anger, prompting sporadic protests against the government in several provinces.
As Iran’s currency, the rial, loses value and people see their incomes dwindle with soaring prices, strikes over pay disputes between bus drivers and teachers have gained traction. Security forces cracked down on arrests and officials played down the unrest, with Raisi saying over the weekend that “difficult decisions” had to be made even if people disagreed.
The Sultanate of Oman, where US and Iranian diplomats quietly hammered out the Tehran nuclear deal – signed in 2015 by Iran and six world powers – welcomed Raisi upon his arrival in Muscat on Monday.
He met with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said to sign preliminary oil and gas deals and strengthen relations with the neutral country, which is known for deftly navigating the region’s political and sectarian disputes.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.