By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
Over the past few decades, Iran has fought a shadow war. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have been responsible for attacks on Western targets beginning in the 1980s and 1990s; these attacks are still occurring today. These attacks involved Europe, South America and the Middle East and killed hundreds of people.
Now, this shadow war has moved to the IRGC’s backyard. According to news outlets such as The New York Times, Israel is behind the recent assassination of an IRCG leader, Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei. In addition, a military site in Parchin was damaged by a drone strike from an unknown source.
The Khodaei Assassination
On May 22, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Colonel Hassan Sayyad Khodaei was shot by two men on a motorcycle. The assassination took place in Tehran, and the story soon made its way to headlines to multiple news outlets around the world.
Khodaei was a major figure in the IRGC’s Unit 840. Unit 840 is a part of the Quds Force, the black operations arm of the IRGC. According to Israel Hayom, Unit 840 “is tasked with the abductions and assassinations of foreigners around the world, including Israeli civilians and officials.”
Khodaei was likely connected to attacks on Israeli diplomats in India, the murder of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and plans to assassinate the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. His death was meant to send a clear message to Iran and the IRGC to stop plotting attacks all over the world.
The New York Times noted that an Israeli intelligence official acknowledged responsibility for the assassination to the U.S., and the leak infuriated Israeli officials. Knesset party member and former Mossad agent Ram Ben-Barak, who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said in a radio interview that the leak “mainly harms trust.”
He added, “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. I hope the Americans investigate the leak and figure out where it came from and why it occurred.”
The Attack in Parchin
A few days later, The New York Times published satellite images concerning an attack on a military site in Parchin, Iran. The report mentioned the attack was carried out by suicide drones.
The Parchin military site has a long history. It has been used in the past to develop nuclear missiles and the equipment used to construct nuclear weapons.
The New York Times report added that an engineer working for the Iranian Defense Ministry was killed, and another person was injured. No one has currently admitted responsibility for the attack.
The Iranian Response to the Attacks
Major-General Hossein Salami, head of the IRGC, has stated that Iran will seek revenge for the recent attacks. He noted, “The martyrs who are murdered by the Zionists are of a much higher status. God willing, we will take revenge against the enemies….The enemy pursued him from the heart of the White House and Tel Aviv for months and years, house to house and alley to alley to martyr him at some point.”
So what is Iran’s next step? Iran has much to deal with. U.S. sanctions have crippled its economy and caused civil unrest. In addition, the talks about the nuclear deal are not advancing. Furthermore, Iran’s proxy forces in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq have made no advances in the past year and have lost ground on the domestic political front.
Despite these problems, Iran has continued its usual modus operandi to continue fighting its shadow war. Iranian forces recently seized two Greek ships in retaliation for Greece stopping Iranian ships that did not adhere to the economic sanctions. Tehran is using the ships that pass next to its borders as a tool to create pressure for countries cooperating with the U.S.
On May 30, Iranian-backed militias attacked a U.S. military base in Iraq. This type of attack is not new and is likely Tehran’s way of tooting its own horn.
Iran, however, is paying the price for the decades of its shadow war. In its attempt to spread the Islamic revolution throughout the Arab world, Iran has not only targeted the U.S. and Israel, but has also added other Western countries and Sunni majority nations in the Middle East.
Soon, Iran will have to make a decision about its future. The economic and political pressure on Iran and the counter moves by Iran will not stop until there is a change of government in Tehran.
Until that happens, nothing will change for the West in this shadow war. The current supreme leader is a hardliner with a deep disdain for the West, but whoever comes after him will have some hard choices to make. These choices will influence the lives of millions of Iranians who currently live in poverty and have yearned for real change for decades.