IRGC colonel assassinated in Tehran
The BBC, Reuters, Guardian and The Times report that a colonel in the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been shot dead in a rare assassination in Tehran. The Times says the attack “bore the hallmark of Mossad”. Two gunmen on a motorbike are reported to have shot Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodayari five times in a car outside his home. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, and a manhunt is under way for the gunmen. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the colonel was assassinated by “sworn enemies” of Iran who are “the terrorist agents affiliated with the global arrogance” – a reference to the US and its allies – and said other countries that “claim to be fighting terrorism are regrettably silent and support it”.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are “blundering and brainwashed idiots” who resemble the hapless comedy spy Johnny English, a former Western prisoner has told The Telegraph. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic and Cambridge graduate, said she was bewildered by the incompetence of her captors while she was being held in Tehran’s Evin prison by the IRGC, which typically has a reputation for training fierce spymasters.
Reuters reports that Israel reaffirmed on Sunday a long-standing arrangement with Muslim authorities that prevents Jewish prayer at a contested Jerusalem holy site, pushing back against a lower Israeli court that questioned the legality of police action against violators.
The Guardian reports that evictions in the West Bank villages of Masafer Yatta have begun after Israel’s supreme court earlier this month the land can be repurposed for military use, upholding the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) argument that Palestinians living here could not prove they were resident before the firing zone was established in 1981. Palestinians in Masafer Yatta – or Firing Zone 918 to the Israelis – vow to rebuild as homes are bulldozed.
In the Independent, Bel Trew writes that Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing is a threat to press freedom everywhere. “The fog of conflict cannot be the go-to excuse for the death of a journalist in these circumstances. We are not default collateral.”
Reuters follows comments by the Qatari foreign minister who said Iran has matters ‘under review’ over JCPOA nuclear pact.
The Telegraph and the Guardian review a new play called Two Palestinians Go Digging, showing at the Royal Court. The Telegraph writes: “The play remains an extremely entertaining and timely take on a conflict that is not often in the news, despite a series of major flare-ups in recent months. It is made all the more powerful through a fundamentally balanced political standpoint: it acknowledges how both sides are caught up in their own propaganda, and also shares the perspectives of Israelis who would rather be ‘off their head clubbing in Tel Aviv’ than at war, or who are settlers in the West Bank only because that is the only rent they can afford.”
The Financial Times reports that Saudi Arabia has signalled it will stand by Russia as a member of the Opec+ group of oil producers despite tightening Western sanctions on Moscow and a potential EU ban on Russian oil imports. The oil group’s production quotas are set to expire in three months and Russian output is falling.
In the Israeli media, all the papers report about the killing of Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodayari in Tehran yesterday. According to Yediot Ahronot, Khodayari “was responsible for acts of terrorism against Israeli and Jewish targets throughout the world, which were foiled by Israel, among other places, in Cyprus, Colombia, Kenya, Turkey, and the attempt to bait two senior Israeli officials. He belonged to the Quds Force’s terror attack unit, and a few months ago, according to reports, sent an Iranian drug dealer to assassinate the Israeli consul in Istanbul.”
Although Israel did not officially claim responsibility, several commentators assume that this was likely the case. In Israel Hayom, Yoav Limor writes: “The assassination … appears to be the continuation of the shadow war between Israel and Iran. Most likely Iran will quickly point an accusing finger at the Mossad, and as usual, will threaten revenge.” He points out that unlike previous assassinations on Iranian soil, the target this time had no connection to the Iranian nuclear programme, but rather was a member of the Quds Force who operated in Syria, and most likely was involved in the efforts to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah and to the Iranian militias in Syria.” He concludes: “The Iranians are unlikely to change their ways, and yet — we should not make light of the importance of these kinds of messages. Beyond the immediate operational effect on the Quds Force, the assassination will put immediate psychological pressure on the entire top tier of the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force.”
Smadar Peri in Yediot Ahronot says yesterday’s assassination was unusual, both because it took place in broad daylight and because the target was unrelated to the nuclear programme. She writes: “The assassinations of nuclear scientists and nuclear programme managers has not, to this day, caused any halt in the programme … [and] the nuclear programme will not stop because of assassinations. The same is true for Iranian activity in Syria, which was the reason for yesterday’s assassination. We can presume that the deceased has a deputy, or that Tehran is even now seeing who will be the next Iranian envoy to Syria. If Israel was indeed behind these assassinations, presumably that they are meant mainly to show Iranian’s most senior security and intelligence officials that Israel’s eyes are everywhere, that Iran has become a dangerous playing field for Israeli agents.”
Kan Radio reports the government has made it clear that there is no intention to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, after the Jerusalem Magistrates Court ruled that four Jewish teens who bowed in prayer on the Temple Mount and recited Shema Yisrael, should not be banned from the Temple Mount and the Old City, as the police had ordered. The cabinet secretariat stressed that the court ruling only related to the behaviour of these teens and had no bearing on freedom of worship on the Temple Mount. The state will appeal the Jerusalem Magistrates Court’s ruling to the Jerusalem District Court. The police also said that the visitation rules for the Temple Mount were unchanged and that their enforcement would continue.
Maariv reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at yesterday’s cabinet meeting that all professional organisations are in favour of the march of flags, which will be held in Jerusalem next week, will pass through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter in the Old City. The security establishment believes that a year after Guardian of the Walls, Hamas is still deterred and is not seeking to escalate the situation or another clash. However, it is clear that any escalation in Jerusalem and unusual events during the march of flags are likely to lead to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, senior figures in the Islamic Jihad and Hamas yesterday sent threats in connection with the march of flags. Khaled Al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad said, “If Israel invades Jerusalem on May 29, this will be a new battle. We will not permit the enemy to force its religious sovereignty and identity on al-Aqsa Mosque. We warn Israel not to break into al-Aqsa Mosque.” Ismail Haniya, who lives in Qatar, also threatened Israel that the march of flags was likely to have serious repercussions.
Haaretz writes about what the election of a new left-wing government in Australia will mean for the country’s support for Israel. Australia had been led a right-wing government for the last nine years and outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an evangelical Christian, was a staunch supporter of Israel. “Whilst the Labor Party has historically been supportive of Israel, “instances of strong opposition to Israel have emerged from within the party in recent years. At Queensland’s Labor branch state conference last year, for instance, party members overwhelmingly voted for an anti-Israel resolution that accused Israel of ethnically cleansing Palestinians.”