(April 24, 2019 / JCPA) Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Hossein Salami on April 21 as the new chief commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
In a ceremony attended by senior IRGC, military and police commanders, Ayatollah Khamenei granted Salami the rank of major-general and the position of commander-in-chief of the IRGC. The supreme leader expressed the hope that Maj. Gen. Salami “will move ahead in his new position by employing creativity as well as high morale and spirit.”
On his twitter account, Khamenei wrote:
IRGC Brigadier General Hossain Salami, 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.
Salami replaced Maj-Gen. Mohammad Ali Aziz-Jafari, who had served in the job for 12 years, since 2007. Jafari was appointed to the head IRGC’s Baqiyatollah base, which oversees Iran’s “soft warfare” efforts. On his twitter account Khamenei wrote:
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.
Salami was born in 1960 in Golpayegan, Isfahan Province. In 1978 he joined the mechanical engineering department at the Iran University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Tehran, where he studied mechanical engineering. When the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980, he joined the IRGC. He served as commander of IRGC’s Nuh operational naval base during the war. After the war ended in 1988, he received his master’s degree in defense management from the IRGC University of Command and Staff and later served as the commander of the university. Since 1997 Salami also held high positions within the IRGC—operations deputy of the IRGC Joint Staff (1997-2005), commander of the IRGC Air Force (2006-09) and deputy commander of the corps from 2009 until his recent appointment.
The IRGC was originally created soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, to “guard the Islamic Revolution and its achievements,” but after the Iran-Iraq war, it maintained its power and has managed to evolve into the most powerful organization in Iran. In fact, the IRGC revolutionized the revolution with its wide interpretation of Article 150 of the Iranian constitution, with very few (most recently the late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) able to challenge its growing grip on the country.
Salami, like many of the IRGC’s top commanders, is well-known for his fiery rhetoric against Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
On Jan. 31, he said following Israel Air Force attacks against IRGC and pro-Iranian militias in Syria:
“We warn the Zionist Regime [Israel] not to play with fire … this will only lead to their disappearance, and they will be destroyed before America hears their cry for help, and they will not have the opportunity to dig enough graves to bury their corpses. … If a war starts … the Zionist regime is doomed.”
On Oct. 5, 2018, Salami said during a Friday address to a group of IRGC commanders and officers in Isfahan that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu should know that there is no way for him except fleeing the region, and so he needs to learn how to swim in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Prepared for the worst-case scenario
In 2015, Salami said that Iran was prepared for the “worst-case scenario.”
Warning the United States that “Americans should not compare their previous military victories over feeble armies with the consequences of any possible conflict with Iran. … We will welcome a war with the Americans.” Salami also advised the Iranian nuclear negotiating team not to accept any compromise or deal that would undermine Iran’s self-esteem and beliefs and to leave the negotiating table if they saw the Americans were seeking political hegemony using intimidating, threatening, or humiliating rhetoric. Following the American designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization on April 8, 2019, Salami said: “We are proud to be called terrorists by somebody like [U.S. President Donald] Trump.”
Salami’s appointment comes at a very sensitive time. Two weeks ago the United States government designated the IRGC, including its Quds Force (IRGC-QF), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. The recent decision by the United States to increase the pressure on Iran via its oil exports places the IRGC’s newly appointed commander in a sensitive position that will test his hard-line stance on relations and conduct with the United States and its ally, Israel.
On April 23, the IRGC’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri stressed that Salami’s recent appointment had “nothing to do” with the American decision to blacklist the Guards, but warned that Iran would close the strategic Strait of Hormuz: “The Hormuz Strait, based on law, is an international shipping route, and if we are banned from using it, we will close it. We will not hesitate to challenge any threat to protect and defend the waters of Iran, to defend our dignity.” Tangsiri referred to reports that the United States might not renew sanctions exemptions earlier granted to allies to buy Iranian oil.
Earlier in February, Tangsiri had also threatened to close the Hormuz Strait, if Iran’s oil exports dropped to zero. “We have full control over [Hormuz and] will not allow foreigners from outside of the region to come and take oil from here and export it while we cannot. … As long as our crude oil leaves the Strait without difficulties for our vessels’ passage, this [blocking] will not occur.”
The tough American policy toward Iran places the Revolutionary Guards, with its huge economic enterprises and military/terrorist capabilities, at the focus of its pressure. The recent sanctions escalation appears to be putting the two countries on a collision course.
The tough threats from Iranian leaders come as the United States was beefing up its presence in the region. For the first time, U.S. Air Force F-35s have been deployed nearby in the United Arab Emirates. Two U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike forces passed through the region (the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John Stennis). France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier also arrived in the region and held exercises together with the Stennis.
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 Alcyon Risk Advisors.