Appointment of new IRGC chief hints at further aggression
Iran’s state-controlled Persian newspapers and TV outlets last week dedicated significant coverage to the recent changes in the state’s military command structure. One of the critical developments was the replacement of the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami was appointed to replace Mohammed Ali Jafari as the new commander of the IRGC.
Iran’s media outlets praised Khamenei, who lauded Hossein on Twitter by stating: “Given your qualities and valuable experiences in major managerial responsibilities with various revolutionary and volunteering sectors of IRGC, I appoint you as the commander-in-chief of the IRGC, granting you the rank of major general.”
A veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, Salami joined the IRGC two years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. He quickly rose through the ranks, serving as commander of the IRGC University of Command and Staff , deputy of the IRGC’s joint staff, commander of the IRGC air force, and deputy commander of the IRGC.
Iranian leaders welcomed Khamenei’s move. Even the so-called moderates showed their full support for the hardline general. President Hassan Rouhani expressed his approval, saying: “I would like to congratulate your appointment as the commander-in-chief of the army of the guardians of the Islamic revolution by the supreme leader of the revolution… I hope that we witness further collaboration and empathy between the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran and growing authority and dignity against any kind of threats and conspiracies.”
Khamenei’s decision to appoint a new chief for the IRGC might have come as a surprise to some scholars, policy analysts and politicians, but there are several reasons behind the move. Most importantly, Iran’s supreme leader appears to be transforming the IRGC from predominantly concentrating on asymmetrical warfare into engaging in direct battles and confrontations, as well as rapidly advancing the regime’s ballistic missile capabilities.
Khamenei appears to be transforming the IRGC from predominantly concentrating on asymmetrical warfare into engaging in direct battles.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Jafari taught at the IRGC’s war university in the early 1990s and was the head of a strategic research center in Tehran. His research and strategy mainly focused on the employment of asymmetrical warfare and unconventional ways to expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Jafari believes that, since the West is superior to Iran when it comes to technology and military capabilities, asymmetrical warfare and the deployment of proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis is the most efficient strategy for advancing the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic.
He also emphasized the use of soft power as an effective method to infiltrate other nations. That is why Khamenei moved Jafari to be the commander of a cultural and educational division. The supreme leader referred to Jafari’s expertise in soft power, stating on Twitter: “Major General Jafari, given your role in the soft war and appreciating your efforts during your term as the commander-in-chief of the IRGC, I appoint you as the head of Baqiyatullah Al-A’zam Cultural and Social Headquarters.”
On the other hand, as the former commander of the IRGC air force, Salami is not only known for his offensive war strategies, but he was also in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Iranian regime has been increasing its efforts to ship advanced weaponry to its militias and proxies, including Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias, which can turn regular rockets into precision-guided missiles.
From Khamenei’s perspective, since the US has designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, it must respond with more aggressive policies and brute force in order to damage the national security and scuttle the foreign policy objectives of the US and its allies.
Furthermore, Salami is also well known for his incendiary and confrontational rhetoric inside Iran and on the international stage; he has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. His war of words fits well with Khamenei’s agenda to lash out at “enemies” and increase tensions through fiery rhetoric.
With regards to the Trump administration’s pressure on Iran, he believes that the IRGC is more powerful than ever before. In October last year, Salami said: “The US threats over the past year have had no achievements other than making Iran more powerful. We have become such a major power today that we can destroy the enemy’s interests at any point and respond to the enemy at every level.”
Khamenei also favors Salami because he is a fierce critic of Saudi Arabia. In February, the general said on state TV that the Islamic Republic will break the Kingdom and its allies. He added: “We will never lay down our weapons… This is who we are. We were not created for this world. We were chosen to wage jihad.”
The appointment of Salami as the new chief of the IRGC suggests that the Iranian regime is not only seeking to pursue more confrontational and aggressive policy in the region, but is also planning to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program at full speed.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh