Shamkhani’s remarks drastically change the story of Fakhrizadeh’s killing, which happened Friday. Authorities initially said a truck exploded and then gunmen opened fire on the scientist, killing him and a bodyguard. State TV even interviewed a man the night of the attack who described seeing gunmen open fire.
State TV’s English-language broadcaster Press TV reported earlier Monday that a weapon recovered from the scene of the attack bore “the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.” State TV’s Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam, claimed the weapons used were “controlled by satellite,” a claim also made Sunday by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
None of the outlets immediately offered evidence supporting their claims, which also give authorities a way to explain why no one was reportedly arrested at the scene.
“Unfortunately, the operation was a very complicated operation and was carried out by using electronic devices,” Shamkhani told state TV. “No individual was present at the site.”
Satellite control of weapons is nothing new. Armed, long-range drones, for instance, rely on satellite connections to be controlled by their remote pilots. Remote-controlled gun turrets also exist but typically see their operator connected by a hard line to cut down on the delay in commands being relayed. Israel uses such hard-wired systems along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
While technically feasible, it wasn’t immediately clear if such a system had been used before, said Jeremy Binnie, the Mideast editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly.
“Could you set up a weapon with a camera which then has a feed that uses an open satellite communications line back to the controller?” Binnie said. “I can’t see why that’s not possible.”
It also raised the question whether the truck that exploded during the attack detonated afterward to try to destroy a satellite-controlled machine gun that was hidden inside the vehicle. Iranian officials did not immediately acknowledge that. It also would require someone on the ground to set up the weapon.
Shamkhani also blamed the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as well for “having a role in this,” without elaborating. The MEK, as the exile group is known, has been suspected of assisting Israeli operations in Iran in the past. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monday’s service for Fakhrizadeh took place at an outdoor portion of Iran’s Defense Ministry in Tehran, with officials including Revolutionary Guard chief Gen. Hossein Salami, the Guard’s Quds Force leader Gen. Esmail Ghaani, civilian nuclear program chief Ali Akbar Sahei and Intelligence Minister Mamoud Alavi. They sat apart from each other and wore masks due to the coronavirus pandemic as reciters melodically read portions of the Quran and religious texts.
Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami gave a speech after kissing Fakhrizadeh’s casket and putting his forehead against it. He said Fakhrizadeh’s killing would make Iranians “more united, more determined.”
“For the continuation of your path, we will continue with more speed and more power,” Hatami said in comments aired live by state television.
Hatami also criticized countries that hadn’t condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing and warned: “This will catch up with you someday.”