On Sunday, April 21, 2019, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Hossein Salami as the new chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).1
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 Major-General Salami “will move ahead in his new position by employing creativity as well as high morale and spirit.”2
In 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.3
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. In 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.4
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 and studied mechanical engineering. When the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980, he joined the IRGC. He was the commander of IRGC’s Nuh operational naval base during the war. When the Iraq-Iran 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. Salami also held high positions within the IRGC since 1997 – operations deputy of IRGC Joint Staff (1997-2005) and commander of IRGC Air Force (2006-2009) and deputy commander of the Corps from 2009 until his recent appointment.
Salami’s career path in the Revolutionary Guards is similar to many like him since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, through the cauldron of the eight years Iran-Iraq War, and finally the attainment of major positions of influence in the Iranian economic, military, and political establishment.
The IRGC was originally created soon after the 1979 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 Islamic Revolutionary Guards revolutionized the revolution with its wide interpretation of Article 150 5 of the Iranian constitution with very few (most recently the late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) able to challenge its growing grip over Iran.
Israel Will Disappear
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 January 31, 2019, Salami said following Israeli 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.6
On October 5, 2018, Salami advised during a Friday address to a group of IRGC commanders and officers in Isfahan, that Israeli prime minister “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.”7
Prepared for the Worst-Case Scenario
In 2015, Salami said that Iran is 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 see Americans are seeking political hegemony using intimidating, threatening, or humiliating rhetoric.8 Following the U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization (April 8, 2019), Salami said: “We are proud to be called terrorists by somebody like Trump.”9
Salami’s appointment comes at a very sensitive time. Two weeks ago, the U.S. government designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Quds Force (IRGC-QF), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.10 The recent decision by the United States to increase the pressure on Iran on oil exports places the IRGC’s newly-appointed commander in a sensitive position that will test his hard-line positions on relations and conduct with the United States and its ally, Israel.
On April 23, 2019, 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.”11,12 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 it (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.”13
The tough U.S. 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.15 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.16
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5 Article 150 – The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, organized in the early days of the triumph of the Revolution, is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the Revolution and its achievements. The scope of the duties of this Corps, and its areas of responsibility, in relation to the duties and areas of responsibility of the other Armed Forces, are to be determined by law with emphasis on brotherly cooperation and harmony among them.
9 Mehr news agency, 13 Apr 19
11 https://tinyurl.com/entekhab-ir-fa-news-472353; https://www.alalamtv.net/news/4180296/%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B1%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D8%B0%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B9%D9%86%D8%A7-%D9%85%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D9%85%D8%B6%D9%8A%D9%82-%D9%87%D8%B1%D9%85%D8%B2-%D9%81%D9%84%D9%86-%D9%8A%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%AF%D9%85%D9%87-%D8%A3%D8%AD%D8%AF
13 AlAlam TV, February 24, 2019