Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday appointed a new leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. recently designated a foreign terrorist organization.
The new chief is 59-year-old Major General Hossein Salami, formerly the deputy commander. Salami has a history of belligerent statements endorsing jihad violence and threatening attacks on the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
Iranian state media did not explain why the previous IRGC commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was forced out of the position he held since 2007 or say much about his future career plans. He appears to have been demoted to a relatively minor command post at a base dedicated to the “social and cultural” interests of the IRGC.
Jafari, once considered among the heaviest hitters in Iranian politics, was not exactly lacking in murderous hatred for the Western world. PBS sized him up in 2010 as “a hardliner’s hardliner” and portrayed him as instrumental in reconfiguring the IRGC to more effectively oppress dissident Iranian citizens. His ouster might have been a gesture of reassurance to the restless Iranian populace, a penalty for losing one of Tehran’s internal political games, or a gesture of frustration after the U.S. applied the terrorist designation to the IRGC.
The ayatollah certainly did not sack Jafari as a gesture of humble contrition for the IRGC’s terrorist activities. The new commander Hossein Salami is a very cold cut indeed. Al-Arabiya printed a few nuggets of his wit and wisdom on Monday, including statements such as:
We are planning to break America, Israel, and their partners and allies. Our ground forces should cleanse the planet from the filth of their existence.
We will break our enemy. We have decided to do so. We have a plan. We are organized and motivated. We have faith. We have martyrdom. We have Jihad
The Saud regime should know that it will not last. I know what dreams of horror they have every night. Their lips have become dry [out of fear]. Every day that passes, they are grateful for having lived to see another day. They await death. The same is true of those who are greater than them. America, too, is distressed today. It does not have the appearance of a world power at all. America, too, has been defeated.
The Islamic Republic’s missile power is unstoppable and uncontrollable, and if the Europeans try to conspire to take away our missile power, we will be forced to take a strategic leap.
Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground – with the grace of God – for the annihilation, the wiping out, and the collapse of the Zionist regime.
When the IRGC illegally took American sailors prisoner by the IRGC during the Obama administration, Salami claimed they were “crying when they were being captured” and said the American prisoners “humbly admitted our might and power.”
The Jerusalem Post on Monday speculated Salami’s promotion is meant as a signal that Iran is serious about developing and deploying more advanced missiles, given not only his enthusiasm for jihad – specifically commended by Ayatollah Khamenei when he announced the new appointment – but his background as a commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force.
“If anything, the demotion of Jafari and the promotion of Salami are designed to accentuate the broad array of threats America and its allies like Israel have long been facing from Iran. It’s most likely that this will be an instance of bureaucratic change to support strategic stasis,” Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told the Jerusalem Post.
“While hardline Iranian military officials seldom shy away from inflammatory rhetoric, Salami’s statements have always been the most offensive and lethal. And among the military elite he has usually been among the fastest to respond to threats with threats,” Taleblu observed.
Another Jerusalem Post analysis suggested Khamenei wants to update IRGC leadership with some fresh faces and give the organization a renewed sense of purpose as it becomes more central to Iranian foreign policy:
Salami’s rhetoric is not a great departure from the usual boasting of the Iranian regime and its far-right elements, but his elevation appears to indicate a desire to bring renewed vigor to the IRGC at the very top levels. Jafari held his position since 2007, so a new commander will bring a new face. It appears that other positions may be in flux within the IRGC. The IRGC is also in the spotlight after the US designated it a terrorist organization.
These considerations mean that as tensions heat up with the US and Israel, the IRGC will be at the forefront of Iran’s policies in the region. It has been increasing the quality and precision of its missiles in recent years.
Radio Farda quoted a trio of Iranian analysts who believe Salami will become more of a spokesman and media figurehead for the IRGC than an operational commander, but they also worried his hotheaded attitude and history of dispensing belligerent rhetoric could lead him to make dangerous “miscalculations.”
Another possibility mentioned by Radio Farda is that Khamenei demoted Jafari as a peace offering to President Hassan Rouhani, head of the secular wing of Iranian government. Jafari became heatedly critical of Rouhani’s leadership during Iran’s recent flood crisis, while Salami has no history of public antagonism with the president.