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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed the deputy commander of the Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, as the successor to Qassem Soleimani who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday 3 January 2020. The new commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, was Maj Gen Soleimani’s deputy and will now answer only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Like Maj Gen Soleimani, General Ghaani fought for Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds – or Jerusalem – Force.
“We are children of war. We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle,” General Ghaani once said of his relationship with Maj Gen Soleimani.
Who is Esmail Ghaani?
Esmail Ghaani was born August 8, 1957 in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. He grew up during the last decade of monarchy. He joined the Guard a year after the 1979 revolution. Like Soleimani, he first deployed to put down the Kurdish uprising in Iran that followed the shah’s downfall.
Esmail Ghaani joined the IRGC in 1980 at the age of 20. Ghaani received his military training in a military garrison, currently known as the Imam Ali garrison, in the capital Tehran in 1981. The newly-appointed Ghaani fought in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). According to the official IRNA news agency, he was involved in various key operations and played an important role during that war.
In 2017, Esmail Ghaani claimed that the Quds Force is “active all over the world,” saying: “I have had the privilege of working with the Quds force for a few years … we are in touch with many individuals across the world and cooperate with them in many fields … we are everywhere and nowhere, and by the grace of God, we can do anything.”
While Qassem Soleimani’s exploits in Iraq and Syria launched a thousand analyses, Esmail Ghaani has remained much more in the shadows of the organization. He has only occasionally come up in the Western or even Iranian media. But his personal story broadly mirrors that of Soleimani.
Working With Qassem Soleimani
Major General Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s intelligence and military operations abroad, was hailed as a hero at home and considered one of the most powerful figures in the country. Esmail Ghaani survived the war to join the Quds Force shortly after its creation.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.
Like his predecessor, a young Esmail Ghaani faced the carnage of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds, or Jerusalem, Force.
Esmail Ghaani became acquainted with Soleimani in the early 1980s and eventually began collaborating with Soleimani in the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the IRGC. He became deputy commander of the Quds Force in 1997 when Soleimani became the force’s chief commander. He worked with Qassem Soleimani, as well as led counterintelligence efforts at the Guard. Western analysts believe while Soleimani focused on nations to Iran’s west, Ghaani’s remit was those to the east like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“America and Israel are too small to consider themselves on the same level as Iran’s military power … this power is today apparent in the form of weapons and missiles in the hands of the oppressed people of Palestine and Gaza,” Esmail Ghaani said in January 2015.
US Criticism Against Esmail Ghaani
In 2012, Ghaani drew criticism from the US State Department after reportedly saying that “if the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.” That comment came just after gunmen backing Syrian President Bashar Assad killed over 100 people in Houla in the country’s Homs province.
“We had the deputy head of the Quds Force saying publicly that they were proud of the role that they had played in training and assisting the Syrian forces — and look what this has wrought,” then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nunland said at the time.
In 2012, the US Treasury sanctioned Ghaani, describing him as having authority over “financial disbursements” to proxies affiliated to the Quds Force. The sanctions particularly tied Ghaani to an intercepted shipment of weapons seized at a port in 2010 in Nigeria’s most-populous city, Lagos.
Esmail Ghaani New Role
In announcing Ghaani as Soleimani’s replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the new leader “one of the most prominent commanders” in service to Iran.
The Quds Force “will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor,” Khamenei said, according to IRNA.
Soleimani long has been the face of the Quds Force. His fame surged after American officials began blaming him for deadly roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. Images of him, long a feature of hard-line Instagram accounts and mobile phone lockscreens, now plaster billboards calling for Iran to avenge his death.
Esmail Ghaani Biography and Profile