The IRGC is only second to Ayatollah Khamenei – the supreme leader – in terms of influence in the Islamic Republic. Some even believe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is even stronger than the commander-in-chief of Iran’s armed forces; Khamenei himself.
The supreme leader’s decision to appoint new commanders for the IRGC reflects the main apprehension, anxiety, worries, and concerns the Islamic establishment is struggling with. These can be divided into four:
1. Concerns about widespread anti-regime protests in the streets by the people who are fed up with the chaotic social and economic conditions of the country
2. Increased U.S. pressures on Iran’s sensitive and crucial points, including its banking transactions and oil exports that act as the respiratory system of the Islamic establishment
3. Concerns about the possibility of the downfall of the Islamic regime in the event of 80-year-old Khamenei’s death. (The scramble to succeed him will come with a myriad of hazards).
4. Threats that emanate from nonconformist blocs and foreign-based subversive opposition groups, as well as the position of the IRGC against such menaces.
The job of politicians and military commanders, ever loyal to the leadership core, will be to eliminate threats linked to these concerns.
Let’s have a closer look at the record of the new commanders of the IRGC.
Hossein Salami, promoted to major general, and appointed as the new commander of the IRGC on April 21, was one of the military commanders during the bloody and devastating Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988.
Born in the city of Golpayegan in Iran’s central province of Isfahan in 1960, IRGC Major General Salami is an extremely anti-American figure. He believes in battle cries, war rhetoric, and taking an aggressive position in “war of words” against the so-called Great Satan as well as Israel.
He has maintained that, in the last four decades of the post-Islamic revolutionary era, Iran has repeatedly defeated America.
According to him, Iran has been responsible for creating at least three “epic days” (known as Yom ul-Allah, or God’s Day), all of them symbolizing America’s defeat, and “bringing it to its knees”.
First, the downfall of the pro-west monarchy (February 11, 1979), then, invading the U.S. embassy in Tehran and taking 52 American diplomats hostage (November 4, 1979), and finally the aborted U.S. military mission to rescue its captured diplomats in the sands of Tabas in eastern Iran (1980).
Meanwhile, as the most vociferous anti-U.S. and Israel IRGC commander, Salami also believes in ruthless and unsparing suppression of all protesters and other local anti-Islamic establishment dissidents.
IRGC’s new vice commander, rear admiral Ali Fadavi, is a mirror image of his new boss. A year younger, he is also from Isfahan and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq.
Fadavi, chief commander of the IRGC navy from 2010 to 2018, was immediately appointed as the IRGC deputy coordinator in August last year.
In February 2016, he received “first class” Fath (Victory) medal for capturing United States Navy sailors, whose boat inadvertently entered Iranian territorial waters in January 2016.
Again, as his new boss, Fadavi is notorious for his saber-rattling against the U.S.
The IRGC-run Fars News Agency (FNA) cited Fadavi as saying in May 2014, the immense size of the US carriers makes them an “easy target” for Iranian forces.
Furthermore, he said contingency plans to “target American carriers” are a “priority” for the IRGC’s naval forces.
The next figure in the recent reshuffle, the IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqhdi, replacing Fadavi as the IRGC deputy coordinator, is mainly renowned for his extremely conservative political tendencies, as well as his belief in suppressing critics and opposition parties with full force.
Naghdi, joined the IRGC in 1980 and since then has served in Qods Force, law enforcement, general staff and from 2009 to 2016, chief commander of the organization for mobilization of the oppressed, known as the Baseej (Basij).
Immediately before his recent promotion, Naqhdi served in the IRGC joint staff.
On February 23, 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Naqhdi, “for being responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuses in Iran,” adding him to the Office of Foreign Assets Control blacklist. The action subjects him “to visa sanctions” and “seeks to block any assets” he may have under U.S. jurisdiction”, and “bans U.S. citizens from financial transactions with him.
A vice commander but not quite
Based on the formal structure of the IRGC and on paper, the deputy chief commander (DCC) of the elite militia is the second in command of the forces. However, in practice, the DCC has no direct supervision on the chief commanders of the IRGC’s four forces, (air, sea, land and the Qods).
It is quite a known fact today that the position of the current chief commander of Qods force, major general Qassem Soleimani, is much higher than the DCC’s. Soleimani’s exceptional standing in the eyes of the supreme leader, as well as his role in Iran’s Middle East policies, are even overshadowing the position of the IRGC chief commander.
Furthermore, the DCC has no direct role in commanding the IRGC’s powerful and fearsome Intelligence Organization, as well as its Security Department (airports and Ansar security forces).
The IRGC Intelligence Organization, under its longstanding commander, 56-year-old mid-ranking cleric, Hossein Ta’ib, has swiftly expanded and gained power in recent years to the extent that it has even challenged the position of the IRGC’s chief commander.
Meanwhile, the DCC has no influence on IRGC’s Counterespionage Organization (IRGCCO) that has direct close ties with the office of the Supreme Leader and is accountable only to him.
IRGCCO has turned into a fearsome entity in charge of keeping an eye on the commanders and other members of the elite militia.
Having said that, one cannot dismiss or dismiss the DCC’s position as irrelevant or unimportant. On the contrary, the post has specific characteristics that highlight its prominence and capacities.
As it has already seen twice, the DCC could be the next chief commander of the IRGC
Fadavi, rising star who captured Americans
Apparently, challenging America, if not the most critical concern of the clergies and their allies dominating Iran, is definitely one of their primary sources of anxiety. The IRGC’s newly appointed VCC, rear admiral Ali Fadavi, has a 30-year reputations as a symbol of anti-Americanism.
During the last weeks of Iran-Iraq war, when the U.S. Navy engaged with the IRGC’s speedboats, Fadavi was in charge of its Navy’s intelligence unit.
Since then, Fadavi has always appeared as an uncompromising anti-American figure.
As the chief commander of the IRGC Navy, Fadavi played a pivotal role in creating new challenges for U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, deepening the crisis between the two countries.
On January 12, 2016, 10 U.S. Navy sailors (nine male and one female) were detained by the IRGC naval forces when one of their boats became disabled and drifted closer to Iran.
Pentagon officials said the incident occurred near Farsi Island in the Gulf. They said one of their two small boats had mechanical trouble, causing one or both to run aground. The sailors were then picked up by IRGC forces and taken to the island.
Although the IRGC officially declared at the time that the U.S. boats had inadvertently drifted into the Iranian territorial waters (and freed the sailors a day later), Khamenei chose to “exclusively” invite the IRGC’s Naval commander Fadavi, along with other IRGC commanders responsible for arresting American sailors, to express his gratitude to them in person.
During the meeting, Khamenei awarded Fadavi and four of his subordinates with the “first class” military medal, “Fath” or Victory. He was so pleased with the incident that, in 2018, insisted on his anti-Americanism by appointing one of the commanders involved in arresting American sailors, Commodore Alireza Tangsiri, as Fadavi’s successor.
With aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on its way to the Persian Gulf, appointing two anti-American figures to senior positions, highlights Khamenei’s resolve to display his resentment towards America’s global status as a superpower.
Last month, the United States designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. The measure elicited some angry reactions in Iran, where the parliament passed a bill designating U.S. forces in the region, including CENTCOM, the U.S. central commands in the Persian Gulf region, as a terrorist group.