Jun 15, 2022 - World

After suspicious deaths of Iranian officers, Israel warns of threat to tourists

Two men stand under portraits of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei and Gen. Qasem Soleimani during a rally in Tehran on June 3. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Iran suspects Israel is behind a series of assassinations of Iranian military officers and scientists. Now, Israel claims Iran is planning attacks on Israeli targets around the world.

What's happening: At least seven individuals associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or Tehran's nuclear, missile or drone programs have died in suspicious circumstances over the past three weeks.

  • Iran hasn't blamed Israel in every case, and Israel hasn't claimed responsibility. However, some statements from senior Israeli officials have fueled suspicions that Israel is in the midst of an assassination campaign.

Details: The first high-profile death was of IRGC Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei on May 22. Iran accused Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Israel didn't claim responsibility but said Khodaei commanded a unit focusing on covert attacks and was actively plotting strikes against Israeli targets.

  • A few days later, another IRGC colonel died in suspicious circumstances after reportedly falling from a balcony.
  • That same week, an engineer working for the Iranian Ministry of Defense died in a reported drone strike at the Parchin military research complex.
  • Then two Iranian scientists working with the military died in separate incidents after suffering similar symptoms from what Tehran reportedly suspects were poisoning attacks.
  • There were two more deaths reported in the past few days: a junior IRGC officer and an aerospace engineer. Iran said both were "martyred" but hasn't publicly accused Israel in either case.

What they're saying: In an unusual public statement before a hearing of the Knesset's security and foreign relations committee, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his government had changed the strategy vis-à-vis Iran:

“In the past year, the State of Israel has taken action against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against the arms as was done in previous decades. ... We are taking action, everywhere, at any time, and will continue to do so."
— Naftali Bennett

Behind the scenes: During the closed-door hearing, Bennett said Israel “didn’t just wake up one morning and decided to attack Iranians," according to three lawmakers in the room.

  • He didn’t get into specific operations but said “Israel only acts in retaliation to Iranian attacks or takes preventive action."

What to watch: Israeli intelligence issued its strongest-possible warning on Monday against travel to Turkey, which is the focal point of Israeli fears that Iran plans to target Israelis abroad.

  • Israeli officials say Iranian agents tried to kidnap Israelis in Istanbul last month but the attack was prevented at the last minute.
  • Since then, Israeli officials have evacuated several Israeli tourists from Turkey after receiving intelligence about an alleged plot against them, and called more than 1,000 tourists in Turkey to warn them of possible attacks.
  • Israeli officials say Mossad is working with Turkish intelligence to search for Iranian agents who are still planning attacks against Israelis in Turkey.
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