Iran suspects Israel has poisoned two of its top scientists, the latest to die in an escalating shadow war between the two bitter rivals.
Ayoub Entezari, 35, and Kamran Aghamolaei, 31, died just days apart in similar circumstances in towns more than 300 miles apart in central and southern Iran.
Entezari, a graduate from a top technical universities, is thought to have worked on the country’s missile and drone programmes while Aghamolaei was a PhD geology student in Tehran, a field of study sometimes linked to the nuclear programme.
It comes after four Revolutionary Guards soldiers died in mysterious circumstances over the course of three weeks, and amid warnings from Israel that Iran is closer than ever to developing a nuclear weapon as negotiations to rein in Tehran falter.
Kamran Aghamolaei, 31 (left), and Ayoub Entezari, 35 (right), died suddenly in Iran two weeks ago in what officials now believe were poisonings carried out by Israel
Entezari (front row, third right) is thought to have been an aerospace engineer working on the country’s missile and drone programmes
Entezari is said to have fallen ill in late May shortly after attending a dinner organised by a long-term acquaintance in his home town of Yazd, central Iran.
He was taken to an intensive care unit at a local hospital as his symptoms worsened before he died on May 31, the New York Times reported.
The acquaintance who organised the dinner is now missing and being hunted by authorities, an Iranian official told the newspaper.
Entezari’s death was reported by local officials who initially called him a ‘martyr’ and said his death was an act of ‘biological terror’.
A tribute from his university described him as an ‘aerospace engineer’, while images from 2019 showed him presenting then-President Hassan Rouhani with turbines of the kind used in missiles and drones at a factory in his home city.
But officials later retracted the statement about him being a martyr and the local prosecutor denied he was an engineer, calling him ‘an ordinary employee of an industrial company.’
Aghamolaei, meanwhile, fell ill in late May shortly after returning from a business trip to Tabriz, in northern Iran, with ‘intense’ nausea and diarrhea.
He was taken to hospital where his symptoms gradually worsened until he suffered organ failure and died on June 2.
The president of Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, where Aghamolaei studied, issued a statement confirming his death and calling him a PhD student.
Ali Kamani, a member of the Guards’ aerospace division, was ‘martyred’ in Khomein in central Markazi province on Sunday and Mohammad Abdoos, an employee of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, was reported to have been ‘martyred’ on Sunday evening during a mission in the northern Semnan province
Israel has told the United States it was responsible for the assassination of an Iranian Revolutionary Guards colonel, according to reports
An online profile lists Aghamolaei as a student of economic geology. Though the field encompasses a wide range of studies, it is sometimes linked to mining nuclear material or identifying sites suitable for tests.
An Iranian official who spoke to the Time said, privately, Tehran believes both of them men were poisoned by toxins added to their food.
It comes off the back of a series of deaths in Iran that echo previous assassinations linked to Israel, including of top Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp officers.
Sayad Khodayee and Ali Esmaelzadeh, both IRGC colonels, died in Tehran on May 22 and May 28 – the first after being shot by motorbike riders outside his home and the second in a mysterious fall from his balcony.
Though details about both men are sparse, Khodayee’s funeral was attended by thousands including top IRGC commanders – hinting at his importance.
Both men are thought to have served in the elite Quds Force in the same unit – Unit 840 – which carries out kidnappings and assassinations outside Iran, the Times of Israel reported.
Meanwhile Ali Kamani and Mohammad Abdous, who also belonged to the IRGC, died last weekend in separate incidents in Iran that have also been deemed suspicious.
Kamani, believed to be a Second Lieutenant, was said to have died in a ‘car accident’ in the province of Markazi – home to Iran’s heavy water reactor, which is a key nuclear facility.
Meanwhile Abdous, whose rank and role in the IRGC is not clear, was said to have died ‘on a mission’ in Semnan – where Iranian satellite test facilities are located.
Israel appears to be stepping up a shadow-war against Iran while warning the country is closer than ever to getting a nuclear missile (pictured, its main nuclear facility at Natanz)
Ehsan Ghadbeigi, an engineer, was also killed on May 25 when drones struck the Parchin military complex, near Tehran, where the regime develops missile, nuclear and drone technology.
Quadcopter suicide drones blew up a part of the plant that is used to develop Iran’s own drone technology, the Times reported.
Israel has not commented on the alleged poisoning of the two scientists, but rarely remarks on its operations overseas.
However, if confirmed, it would not be the first time Mossad agents had carried out a lethal poisoning.
Though rare, poison was used to kill physicist Ardeshir Hosseinpour – a top Iranian nuclear physicist – back in 2007.
Israel never acknowledged the mission, but US intelligence firm Stratfor said Hosseinpour was a ‘top Mossad target’.
Amid the escalating tensions, Israel yesterday warned its citizens in Turkey that they face ‘real and immediate danger’ of being targeted in attacks by Iranian operatives.
Foreign minister Yair Lapid urged Israelis in the country to leave ‘as soon as possible’, citing ‘several Iranian attempts at carrying out terror attacks against Israelis on holiday in Istanbul’.
Another blast shook Iran today, with a chemical factory in the southern city of Firouzabad exploding after an ammonium tank was said to have leaked.
Some 133 people, mostly factory workers, had to be taken to hospital though most only had light injuries, with 114 released later the same day.
World powers are trying to negotiate a new deal with Iran to help curtail its nuclear technology, though talks in Vienna appear close to collapse
Iran occasionally reports incidents of fires or explosions at industrial sites affecting the country’s infrastructure that are mainly blamed on technical failures.
Years of economic sanctions by the West have blocked Iran’s access to original spare parts and new equipment.
Sensitive military and nuclear sites in Iran have also been the target of attacks over the past years, which Iran has blamed on Israel.
In February, a fire broke out at a warehouse full of engine oil and flammable materials at a base belonging to Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in the western province of Kemranshah, damaging a shed but causing no casualties.
A day earlier, unconfirmed reports proliferated online about several explosions heard in northern Kermanshah, a strategic location in Iran with various missile and military sites.
The reports come as Iran remains on edge about its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. Negotiations in Vienna to revive the accord have stalled for months.
The 2015 deal that granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program collapsed four years ago when former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord and re-imposed crushing sanctions.
In a separate development, Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, said Tuesday that President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted the resignation of the country’s labor minister, following weeks of protests by retirees.
The resignation by Hojjatollah Abdolmaleki on Monday was the first for the government since hard-line Raisi took office less than a year ago. Raisi has three months to propose a new minister to the parliament for approval.
Abdolmaleki said he resigned to keep the “harmony” of the Cabinet but would continue on as an advisor to the president. Mohamad Hadi Zahdivafa was named as caretaker of the labor ministry.