Two senior commanders – one a colonel in the IRGC, and the other a general in the Basij paramilitary organization, were shot dead on October 24 in the city of Zahedan, in southeastern Iran. A report on their most timely death can be found here: “Iranian IRGC Commanders Shot Dead Were ‘Responsible’ for Supply of Drones to Russia, Ukrainian Media Outlets Claim,” Algemeiner, October 26, 2022:
Two senior Iranian commanders who were shot dead by unknown gunmen in the southeastern city of Zahedan on Monday may have been responsible for the supply of drones to the Russian armed forces, Ukrainian media outlets claimed on Tuesday.
The two officers were senior members of the Iranian regime’s widely-feared Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is playing a central role in repressing the historic protests currently rocking the Middle Eastern nation.
Gen. Javad Keikha, the commander of the Basij paramilitary organization, and Col. Mehdi Mollashahi of the IRGC were killed as they traveled together in a car through Zahedan — the main city in Iran’s restive, largely Sunni Muslim province of Sistan and Balochistan — on Monday afternoon.
The Baluchis in Iran have in the past tried to revolt against their Persian overlords, but have always been quickly suppressed. But now, some may think, can be their moment, as the Iranian regime has its hands full trying to deal with protests that continue in over 100 cities and towns. The protests across Iran that erupted after the murder of Mahsa Emini at first were initially focused on the mistreatment of women; protesters ripped off their hijabs and even burned them, while shouting “Woman! Life! Freedom!” Soon however, another chant was heard and began to dominate the protests, a chant that must deeply disturb the Supreme Leader in Tehran: “Death to the Islamic Republic! Death to the dictator!” Those protests are continuing unabated. Close to 300 Iranians have now been killed by the Basij militia and the police.
In this continuing turmoil, the three million Baluchis in southeastern Iran have become more restless, sensing that the regime is so preoccupied with nationwide protests that their own attempt to revolt might not be as easily crushed as in the past. They have been protesting, too, not so much for a change of regime as for autonomy in Baluchistan. Though there are only 3 million Baluchis in Iran, of the four main minorities – Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, and Arabs – they have traditionally been the most restive. They are different both ethnically from the Persians, and religiously, too, being Sunnis rather than Shi’a. They are keenly aware that just across the border in Pakistan are another 7.5 Baluchis, who may be persuaded to help their brothers in Iran to throw off their Persian overlords. On September 30, in the Baluchistan city of Zahedan, after prayers finished at the Grand Mosala, Baluchi protesters attempted to storm three police stations. Iranian security forces replied with live fire, killing 93 Baluchis, including women and children. That put a halt to the violence, for now, by Baluchi protesters, though they continued to stage nonviolent protests against the regime. Then, on October 24, the two commanders – one in the IRGC and another in the Basij – were shot dead.
The story continues:
According to Ukraine’s RBK news outlet, both men were involved in the supply of the Shahed-136 drones which Russian forces have been using to deadly effect against Ukrainian population centers in recent weeks. RBK did not cite a source for this claim. Other Ukrainian outlets pointed to a report carried by Israel’s Russian-language Channel 9 broadcaster, which underlined that the reports asserting the officers were managing the supply of drones to Russia were “unverified.”
At least one Iranian journalist alleged that Keikha and Mollahshahi were among those responsible for the Sept. 30 massacre of protestors in Zahedan, an atrocity tagged as “Bloody Friday” on social media. At least 93 people were reported to have been killed by security forces, with hundreds more wounded, according to Iranian human rights organizations.…
Whodunnit? The most obvious candidate is the Baluchis themselves, determined to avenge those 93 of their countrymen whom the Iran security forces massacred on September 30. It would. be a perfect way to settle scores, killing those who ordered the killing of the Baluchis, and — given the ranks of those targeted — sure to unsettle those in Tehran who thought that the Baluchis would be permanently discouraged after the 93 killed on Bloody Friday.
But there is another actor here – Israel – which has been unfairly criticized by Volodymyr Zelensky for not providing Ukraine with anti-missile defense systems. The Israelis may have been eager to prove to the Ukrainians that there are other things they can do, aside from humanitarian aid, to help Ukraine. The killing of the two Iranians who were in charge of the transfer of Shahed-136 drones to Russia could discourage others from replacing them. The message is like the one that was sent by Israel when the Mossad assassinated, one after the other, five of Iran’s most important nuclear scientists. Those assassinations, we now know, led other Iranian nuclear scientists to turn to other lines of work. Mossad agents in Zahedan might have wanted to exact a price, in the form of the killings, for the transfer of those drones, hoping other Iranians will be reluctant to get involved in future deliveries of drones to Russia. And Mossad, which always likes to keep its enemies guessing, might have thought that this would be the perfect time to get rid of Keikha and Mollahshahi, in a Baluchi city, just six days after the two had ordered a massacre of Baluchis in Zahedan. Let the Iranians try to figure out whom to accuse. Do they want to contribute to the image of a relentless unbeatable Mossad, or to suggest, rather that with this double killing, the Baluchis turn out to be dangerous separatists who must be crushed once and for all?
Whodunnit? Maybe it was Mossad hoping to discourage more drone transfers to Russia. Or maybe the Baluchis who are bent on revenge for “Bloody Friday.” Whoever it was, it was a deed well done, a punishment well deserved, and a welcome emotional boost for the protesters all over Iran who, no matter how much pain the regime inflicts on them, keep on keeping on.