Israel expresses concern over IRGC leak in the New York Times

What happened: Yesterday the New York Times reported that it was Israel who was responsibility for the assassination of the senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodayari.

  • According to the report, Khodayari was deputy head of Unit 840, that carries out targeted attacks outside of Iran, including against Israelis.
  • Khodayari was thought to have been responsible for attempted terror attacks against Israelis, Europeans and American civilians and government officials in Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia, the UAE and Cyprus.
  • Israel officials were surprised and disappointed that the story was leaked by a US official.
  • Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak, the chair of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee,(and former deputy head of Mossad), expressed concerns that the leak, could harm intelligence sharing. He told Radio 103FM, “We have very many close relationships and a lot of cooperation between us, which all depend on trust, and when it is violated in some way then it damages future cooperation.”
  • In parallel Iranian media reported an explosion at a suspected military site in Parchin, with two engineer killed as a result.
  • This is not the first time there has been an explosion in Parchin. In June 2020, an explosion caused a massive fire that was felt and seen from Tehran 30km away. At the time Iranian sources said a gas tank exploded near Parchin and that nobody was hurt.
  • Earlier this week, Prime Minister Bennett commended the US administration for their decision to keep the IRGC on the list of Foreign Terror Organisations.  He revealed that President Biden had already informed him of the decision when they spoke last month.

Context: Israel and US share extensive sensitive material and intelligence on an ongoing basis, despite Israeli anger at the leak, the Israelis are prepared to put the incident behind them and continue.

  • The report if accurate suggests a more assertive Israeli response to the Iranian threat under Prime Minister Bennett and Mossad head Barnea, targeting Iranians responsible for non-nuclear activity on Iranian soil.
  • Whereas before Israel responded to Iranian provocation by striking weapon shipments or military bases in the region, now it appears Israel is targeting those responsible for such threats. Bennett has referred to this policy as targeting the head of the octopus.
  • It also suggests that despite US interests in returning to a nuclear deal, Israel is maintaining freedom of activity against Iran.
  • The use of gunmen and motorcycles to kill targets on foreign soil is believed to be a popular method with the Mossad and has allegedly been used against Iranian nuclear scientists in the past.
  • The targeting of the IRGC officer also highlights Israeli concerns are not limited to Iran’s nuclear programme. Israel sees Iran’s destabilising role within the region, particularly in Syria as well as their support for Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in addition to their threat to target Israelis and Jews around the world.
  • Three weeks ago, Israel revealed that Mossad prevented an Iranian plan to assassinate an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, a US military officer in Germany and French Jewish journalist.
  • Former head of IDF military intelligence Maj Gen (res) Amos Yadlin gave two possible explanations for the US leak. Firstly to clear themselves of any involvement. Secondly to send a message to Israel. He speculated that the leak could have come from a disgruntled member of the administration, that supports the return to the nuclear agreement. They were unhappy about the US decision to keep the IRGC on the terror list and concerned Israel is heating up the situation on the ground and wanted to send a message to Israel to calm it down.
  • Tal Lev Ram, Maariv’s security analyst noted with irony when Israel confronts Iran, which is considered the most powerful enemy, Israel allows itself a far more aggressive approach that with dealing with Hezbollah in Lebanon or against Hamas in Gaza. He explains this is due to the immediate threats to the Israeli home front compared to the current threat to Iran.

Looking ahead: There is concern in Israel that as a result of the assassination and the New York Times exposure, the motivation of Iran to exact revenge on Israel increases. This includes the fear over targeting of Israelis abroad.

  • It is appearing less likely that the US and Iran will reach an understanding to return to the nuclear deal. Earlier this week Rob Malley, the US special envoy for the Iranian issue told a congressional hearing, “We do not have a deal with Iran, and prospects for reaching one are, at best, tenuous.”

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