Iranian media has long blamed Israelis for targeting military and political officials inside Iran. Will Israel's Mossad teams of intelligence operatives resume these eternally murky strikes as retribution for the Oct 7 attack by the Tehran-backed Hamas?
Updated Dec. 9, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.
Two months after the Hamas terror attack in southern Israel and Israel's massive retaliation in Gaza, Tehran insiders say Israel's threat to eliminate those behind the initial Oct. 7 attack is likely to go beyond just the leaders of Hamas.
Though it was Hamas that carried out the attacks that killed more than 1,000 Israelis, many believe it was done in coordination with the Iranian regime, considered the top regional patrons and financial backers of the Palestinian militant group.
So far Israel has avoided directly threatening Iran, but it is believed in past years to have struck sites inside Iran and even interrogated and possibly shot an unspecified number of Iranian personalities including scientists working on its nuclear program.
Last week, Israel suggested it would not limit its targeted killings to Gaza, and would seek out some of Hamas's top leaders living in exile in different locations in the Middle East.
Hasan Hanizadeh, a regional affairs specialist in Tehran, recently told the ILNA news agency that he believed "Israel will not just focus on the physical elimination of leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The Zionist regime's intelligence apparatus aims to remove all the leaders of the resistance," referring to the regional militias that have declared their hostility to Israel and the West.
Beyond Hamas and Islamic Jihad
Hanizadeh said everything Israel was doing in Gaza, including the planned destruction of Hamas and its leaders, was part of its wider plans, predating the October attack, to render the coastal enclave "unlivable," and drive out its population.
Mossad is trying to terrorize and settle scores.
"Clearly Mossad is trying to terrorize and settle scores in that framework," he said, stating that the near-destruction of Gaza was a bid to turn a "crisis into an anti-crisis" or opportunity to expand its territory. This, Hanizadeh said, was done in connivence with Europe and the United States.
Israel, he believes, wants to seize the Gaza strip in any case, to implement a longstanding project known as the Ben Gurion Waterway, or a canal to link the Mediterranean and Red seas, bypassing the Suez canal.
Analysts inside Iran have not specified whether or not they believe the country's Revolutionary Guards generals or regime leaders are among the targets, but the remarks suggested a resurgence of concern over reprisals reaching the Islamic Republic.
Israel has a list of Iranian officials singled out by Mossad as possible targets of assassination.
Back in June 2021, Ali Yunesi, Iran's intelligence minister during part of the 1990s, said in an interview that "Mossad's influence inside the country has grown so much that officials should fear for their lives." He said Iranian authorities had been "negligent" about the threat of the Israeli spy service inside Iran and thus allowed "it to penetrate and strike the way it has, and directly threaten officials" multiple times in recent years.
The most prominent victim of a suspected Israeli action inside Iran was the nuclear scientist Muhsin Fakrhizadeh. Iran's judiciary charged 14 individuals in September 2022 with helping Israel carry out the killing.
In September, Tehran-based daily Hamshahri reported that Israel's Channel 14 had aired a list of Iranian officials who had been singled out by Mossad as possible targets of assassination. They included the head of the Revolutionary Guards, Hussein Salami, the head of the Guards' regional Quds task force, Ismail Qaani, the intelligence minister and a former spymaster.
A former head of the Mossad spoke on the Israeli program, saying the time had come for Iran's regime to "pay another way" for threatening Israeli lives. Israel, he said, can reach "anyone and any element" threatening Israelis, which inevitably would include striking "at the heart of Tehran."