The Supreme Leader has appointed Hossein Salami as the new commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), confirming rumors of the appointment that had been published on social networks and several websites five hours before the official announcement. Three days on, much more has been published about his appointment and about the experience and background of the new commander.
For people outside the IRGC and especially westerners, Salami appears to be gloomy, bad-tempered, talkative and a braggart. But various members of the Revolutionary Guards paint a different picture of him. For instance, Hamid Reza Moghadamfar, the IRGC Cultural Deputy, says Salami is known for his “piety, good temper and altruism,” someone who has a “heartfelt and emotional relationship with all the ranks and the forces under his command” [Persian link]. Moghadamfar also describes Salami as an “outstanding scientist and a learned man” who possesses the “multi-dimensional characteristics and extraordinary capabilities” necessary for being a commander. In addition, few people outside the Guards know that Salami can recite the entire Koran by heart.
Mojtaba Zonnour, a member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee who was once a colleague of Salami, describes him as “a strategist and a capable” person “with a good record” [Persian link]. According to him, the appointment of Hossein Salami is in accordance with the “second phase” of the revolution. “In this phase, the Supreme Leader has important goals in the areas of [military] defense, cultural defense, social defense and civilian defense, and these goals need the active participation of the Guards and the [paramilitary] Basij,” says Zonnour.
“He is intelligent, strong and highly popular among the Guards,” says Brigadier General Ali Shademani, another former colleague of Salami and a deputy at Khatam-al Anbiya Central Headquarters, the unified command headquarters of the Iranian Armed Forces [Persian link]. And some members of the paramilitary Ansar-e-Hezbollah organization say that Salami lives a very simple life and they have seen him many a time on the bus or in line at the pharmacy without a bodyguard.
More Military, Less Politics
All in all, it seems that Salami is “popular” among the rank and file of the Revolutionary Guards, despite the fact that the view outside the Guards and among the public is very different. But his character aside, what people really want to know is: What are the reasons behind the appointment?
There have been many different answers to this question. A review of most of them suggests that, under General Salami, the Guards will concentrate much more on military and defense and less on domestic political and economic issues.
For 10 years, from 2009 to 2019, Salami was a deputy commander of the IRGC. During this time he delivered many highly hostile speeches against the United States and Israel. As hundreds of reports and news items have revealed, he repeatedly asserted the necessity of increasing the missile and defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic. On domestic political issues, Salami attacked the leaders of the Green Movement several times, but practically stayed silent when it came to the misdeeds of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his team.
Many analysts and experts in Iranian affairs believe the significance of Salami’s appointment is not linked to his views about domestic politics but instead about his focus on expanding the missile program and the defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic vis-à-vis the west — especially the US and Israel.
The Academic Angle
Salami’s colleagues describe him as a “military strategist” and point to his academic views regarding military issues. He is a member of the academic staff of the Supreme National Defense University, an institution dedicated to PhD-level work on military doctrine, applied defense sciences and management for the top commanders and directors of Iran’s armed forces.
The university has published four of Salami’s papers, which provide some insight into his views on military and defense issues. One of his most important articles, “A Presentation of the Defense Paradigm Based on the Thoughts of Imam Khamenei” [Persian PDF], was published in the quarterly Strategic Defense Studies in autumn 2017. In this article, Salami and his co-author Reza Yadollahi analyze Ayatollah Khamenei’s speeches about defense and military topics delivered between 1989 and 2016.
The article, of course, is profuse in praising the military views of the Supreme Leader and classifies Khamenei’s views into five categories: military, political, economic, cultural and social defense. In another part of his paper, Salami identifies the components of Khamenei’s thoughts on defense as “intelligent defense, sacrifice for defense, strength in defense, defense of legitimate interests, vigilant armed forces, revival of Muslims’ might and dignity, no compromise with tyrants and no fear of the enemy.”
In spring 2018, the quarterly Strategic Defense Studies published another article by Salami entitled “A Presentation of the Strategic Paradigm for Evaluating the Airpower of the Islamic Republic of Iran Based on the Effective Balance with the Enemies” [Persian PDF]. The article is actually a poll of the views of 42 senior military officers. After reviewing these opinions, Salami presents several recommendations for senior military commanders.
In particular, he points out that the military must come up with an overall strategic plan to deal with the enemy’s destruction of airbases, launch sites and equipment facilities. The project, he says, must be “unified, consistent and ongoing.” He also emphasizes the need for creating and maintaining a communication system among ministries and organizations involved. His third recommendation in the article pertains to planning and preparing, through maneuvers and special armaments, for asymmetric air operations and putting psychological pressure on the enemy.
A Need for a Unified Defense System
The third published article by Salami, “Identifying and Defining Effective Factors in Creating Command Systems and Controlling Communication and Information for the Defense Network” [Persian PDF], was published in Strategic Defense Studies in early 2018. In this article, Salami provides recommendations for reforming the infrastructure of Iran’s information and communication technology to help military command and control systems. Another recommendation involves revising and revisiting the doctrine and the strategy for defending the Islamic Republic with the aim of creating a unified defense system.
Salami’s fourth article, “Designing a Strategic Management Model for Aviation in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Airspace” [Persian PDF], was published in Strategic Defense Studies in summer 2017. This is one of his most important articles, and explains Salami’s views on aerial defense issues. “Considering the sensitivity of the country’s airspace, the necessity of keeping it secure and to prevent terrorist actions, this airspace must be controlled and guarded by a single system and organization,” he concluded. If more than one organization has this responsibility, he writes, “it will lead to tensions, differences of opinion and weakness in aviation affairs.” He also made recommendations to reduce no-fly zones in Iran and to match the aerial defense and aviation information lines, especially at the 12km territorial waters. He pointed out that the army and the Revolutionary Guards currently have separate airspace and this redundancy must be reduced.
These articles and recommendations, likely the results of ample experience and extensive research and study, are why his colleagues consider Salami to be a “strategic commander”. His command of military affairs from an academic point of view, his credential as a revolutionary principlist and his uncompromising positions against the West are probably the three assets that have propelled Salami to this important command.
A Return to “Revolutionary” Values
Almost all analysts believe that, with the appointment of Salami, the IRGC will act more cohesively in the military sphere, and that the doors will be opened for the rise of a younger generation in the Revolutionary Guards.
Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the current commander of Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, is one of the relatively young officers who could be appointed as Salami’s deputy. If this happens, Salami will have an easier time realizing his dreams and plans for Iran’s missile industry and air defense.
In 2009, when Salami was appointed Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Hajizadeh replaced him as the commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force and he has remained in this role for almost 10 years. One of the most important events to take place during Hajizadeh’s tenure was presenting the country’s underground “missile cities” to the media, a move that must have been very pleasing to Salami. And, like Salami, over the last 10 years Hajizadeh has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the United States and Israel. Among the Guards commanders, there is perhaps no one other than Salami himself to have shown so much hostility toward the US and Israel.
Ali Fadavi, former commander of the Guards’ Navy and the current deputy coordinator of the IRGC, and Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Guards’ Ground Force, are the two other possible choices for the job of Salami’s deputy. Both are known for their revolutionary zeal.
There should be no doubt that, under Hossein Salami, the IRGC will be a force run by extremist “revolutionary” commanders who, like him, belong to the second generation of Guards, share his views for reviving “revolutionary values,” would consider expanding the missile program to be their major goal and would address the West using a forceful and threatening language.
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Trump Designates Revolutionary Guards a Terrorist Organization, April 10, 2019
The IRGC Security and Intelligence Agencies, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Ground Forces, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Quds Force, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Navy, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Aerospace Force, April 9, 2019