Iran tries to fill Gen. Soleimani’s boots
By Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira and Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
In an official ceremony marking the beginning of Esmail Qaani’s term as Commander of the IRGC-QF on January 20, 2020, the Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Gen. Hossein Salami appointed Sayyed Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi to the post of IRGC-QF Deputy Commander.
Gen. Esmail Qaani, Commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard (center left),
congratulates Gen. Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, the new Deputy Commander. In the front of them on the right
is a picture of the former commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani
A Rich Past Serving the Revolutionary Guard
Hejazi (63), a native of Isfahan, joined the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) from its beginning in 1979 and fought on various fronts during the Iraq-Iran War. He served in senior posts in the Revolutionary Guard: as Basij Commander – the volunteer arm of the Revolutionary Guard (1997-2008); Chairman of the Joint Staff of IRGC; in 2008, he was appointed as Deputy IRGC Commander. It was probably in this capacity that he also served as Commander of the Sarallah Base of IRGC in Greater Tehran, where he was responsible for the implementation of the security program in Tehran, including putting down popular protests. Serving in that position, Hejazi was involved in suppressing the Green Movement after the elections in 2009 (see below).
On October 2007, the U.S. Government designated IRGC and the IRGC-Quds Force officials, including Mohammad Hejazi, as targets for its ongoing effort to counter Iran’s bid for nuclear capabilities and support for terrorism by providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. Hejazi is also sanctioned by the European Union (April 20, 2007) for links to Iran’s military and missile programs, including entities connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). On March 25, 2012, he was also sanctioned by the EU for human rights violations against Iranians. He was described as “Deputy Chief of the Supreme Leader’s Office and Head of Security and part of the Supreme Leader’s inner circle, responsible for planning the suppression of protests which has been implemented since 2009.”
From 2009 – 2014, Hejazi served as Deputy Chief of General Staff for Armed Forces Logistics and Industrial Research (Project AMAD). In his post, he expressed great pride in the Iranian weapons industry, including in Iran’s air defense system (“Iran developed a more advanced system than the [Russian] S-300”).
Hejazi received a doctorate from the Supreme National Defense University in strategic administration and a Master’s in public administration from the University of Tehran. He is also a senior lecturer at the Imam Hossein University of the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran.
Until 2014, Hejazi often expressed his opinions on various regional and international issues, including attacks on Israel, boasting that Iran’s armed forces had the ability to destroy Haifa and Tel Aviv. Hejazi even estimated that Israel was heading for collapse after its failed campaigns against the Palestinians, Hizbullah, Gaza, and Lebanon.
The Move to Lebanon and the Precision Missile Project
Since 2014, Hejazi’s media presence underwent a sharp decline, probably due to his move to Lebanon, where he served as the Quds Force’s Lebanese Corps Commander. He brought all the experience he had gained during his previous duties with him to Lebanon and began to work vigorously to build up Hizbullah’s military strength, with an emphasis on missile and rockets, in general, and the precision missile project, in particular. According to the Tasnim News Agency, affiliated with the IRGC, Hejazi was responsible for the Guard’s Lebanon portfolio (and not just for the Quds Force).
After repeated Israeli attacks damaged Lebanon-bound convoys of missiles and other project-related equipment, parts of the precision missile project were transferred to Syria, but they eventually returned to the production line in Beirut, where Hejazi attempted to promote his flagship precision missile project.
After Prime Minister Netanyahu revealed to the United Nations (September 27, 2018) the workshops where advancements in the precision missile and rocket project were being made, near the airport and Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut, Hejazi’s project was transferred to the Baalbek area in Lebanon. Hejazi continued to advance the precision missile project until he was appointed to be the Deputy Commander of the Quds Force.
Extensive Experience in the Lebanese Arena
The decision to appoint Hejazi as Qaani’s deputy appears to stem from his extensive organizational experience gained during his years in the army and the Revolutionary Guard, and especially during his time in Lebanon where he worked closely with Hizbullah’s military arm to advance the precision missiles project. Qaani lacks the depth of knowledge of the small details of the Iranian operation in Lebanon, as well as the close ties with Hizbullah operatives such as Fu’ad Shukr, who was involved in the precision missile project. Shukr is wanted by the United States for his involvement in the 1983 attack on the Marines headquarters in Beirut, in which 241 U.S. soldiers and military personnel were killed.
The appointment also indicates the great importance that Iran sees in continuing operations in Syria and Lebanon to build up Hizbullah’s military power, especially with regard to its precision missiles and rockets. Hizbullah will continue to be strengthened and will remain as the operational and organizational model – in accordance to Qasem Soleimani’s legacy – for the members of the “Axis of Resistance”– the Houthis in Yemen, the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria (Hamas and Islamic Jihad), Shiite militias in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and specifically, in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. It should be emphasized that Hizbullah instructors operate in most of these areas to guide local militias and officials in the operation of missiles and rockets, as well as providing military training of various types.
On the home front, Hejazi had years of experience as Commander of the Basij and Commander of the Sarallah Base of the IRGC in Tehran. The Leader and the Revolutionary Guard are signaling that the Force or parts of it may also be involved in internal affairs, such as suppressing the current protests and restoring law and order to Iran, even if it involves a high cost of human life.
Involved in Suppressing Protests in Iran
In this context, according to the BBC in Persian, Mohammad Hejazi, while commander of the Basij forces, played a major part in boosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s candidacy in 2003-2004 for his first presidential term. A month after Ahmadinejad’s victory (after the eight-year presidency of the reformist Mohammad Khatami, which most Revolutionary Guard commanders including Hossein Salami and Qasem Soleimani strongly opposed), Mohammad Hejazi said in a speech, “This narrowed the gap between the people and the government, and this is welcome change and gives us hope that we can counteract enemy plots.”
Hejazi played a key role in the suppression and killing of protesters who protested for eight months the fabrication of Ahmadinejad’s electoral victory for his second term in 2009. Hejazi even issued, according to the same BBC report, a “top secret” order to Iranian hospitals instructing them to act harshly towards the wounded demonstrators, who had been admitted to the hospitals. Mohammad Hejazi’s name has been on the EU and UN sanctions list for about ten years because of his role in the killings of demonstrators and his part in the repression of the 2009 Green Revolution protests.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Military Secretary to the Prime Minister and as chief of staff to the Foreign Minister. He edited the Jerusalem Center eBook Iran: From Regional Challenge to Global Threat. He is the author of Hizbullah: Between Iran and Lebanon, Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2000, four editions. IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and at Acumen Risk Advisors.