Khamenei Replaces the IRGC Chief- is he Tightening his Grip or Preparing for a Potential Military Standoff?


When Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei  announced the sacking of the IRGC Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari and the appointment of Gen. Hussein Salami, the decision was indicative of a significant development. According to the official line, the decision to sack Ali Jafari was based on  his desire to have a greater say in the cultural arena and to play a role in the use of soft power against Iran’s enemies. It is mentioned that he took over the social and cultural base of the IRGC named Baqiatullah Al-Azam. At the same time, the Supreme Leader set the foremost mission for the new commander by saying, “Your awaited mission is to boost the capabilities of the IRGC at all levels and in all sectors as well as to boost the moral essence of the IRGC, which means piousness and foresight.” This gives the impression that the ouster of the former Chief was due to moral reasons. If Ali Jafari could have played an effective role   in the moral and cultural l fields, both of which  are included in the mission of the new commander, so, why was Ali Jafari dismissed and Salami appointed?

To answer this question, we should consider two matters: the military background of the new commander and the circumstances surrounding the IRGC at this time. Gen. Salami has held diverse positions. He was the Commander of the Ground Forces Battalion, Operations Commander at Noah Naval Base, Dean of the College of Command and Staff and the Deputy Commander in Chief of the IRGC. Having held  these various positions, it is clear that Salami could be described as a multi-mission leader. He is endorsed by the Supreme Leader. It is true that Salami was one of Ali Jafari’s deputies, however it is not compulsory for an IRGC deputy to become its commander.

By dismissing Ali Jafari, Khamenei proved that he is still controlling the IRGC after there was rising speculation that the IRGC  is able to influence Khamenei.  He is still able to control the powerful apparatus through extremely tight checks and balances among the branches of the IRGC, as well as via its intelligence apparatuses and the Quds Force led by Qassem Soleimani. The IRGC is no longer a single institution ruled by one figure. Khamenei has undertaken a shakeup of the IRGC, turning its leadership into a multipolar council whose power and clout is distributed equally among its members. However, Khamenei is still seeking to pick those who are the most loyal to him. There is no doubt that the 12-year tenure of Ali Jafari as Chief of the IRGC made him more experienced and capable of controlling the forces under his command. However, Khamenei’s  decision is mainly about obedience and loyalty to him.  This takes precedence over anything else. Some refer to age as a reason for relieving Ali Jafari from office as he is 63 years of age. But it seems that the convergence of views with the Supreme Leader was the decisive factor in Ali Jafari’s replacement. Salami is 60 years of age,  but he never stops retweeting the posts of the Supreme Leader on social media outlets.

On the other side, there is no doubt that the IRGC is going through a delicate juncture. Two weeks ago, the IRCG was placed on the list of foreign terror organizations by the United States. This announcement will presumably place restrictions on the movements of its commanders, adding them toterror lists, freezing their bank assets and criminalizing all the economic transactions in which the firms affiliated with the IRGC are engaged. This will also involve criminalizing all  aspects of military cooperation between the IRGC and the international community  including military maneuvers, and the exchange of expertise on training and armament as well as joint military industrialization operations. In addition,  countries welcoming IRGC members under the guise of military advise as well as hosting and facilitating the movement of IRGC affiliates will be exposed to international criticism.

Despite the foregoing, Iran is still in the process of watching closely how the US will enforce this decision. So far, the IRGC has not issued any serious reaction to the US decision.

In addition to the US decision, remarks made by Hassan Nasrallah on April 21, 2019, are of importance as  he spoke of an Israeli war against Hezbollah in the summer . He also stated that he expected Israel to assassinate him and most of the movement’s top-ranking leaders. He based his prediction on the nature of the personality of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his desire to wage preemptive war. Despite sources from Hezbollah denying these remarks, the possibility of  war remains likely. Moreover, it is all the more likely after the repeated Israeli strikes against Iranian positions in Syria and the hints by Iran of its desire to retaliate even if Russia is opposed to any Iranian response.

As to Nasrallah’s remarks which have been denied by the group’s sources, he said, “Therefore, the Lebanese people and incubating environment should be prepared for all scenarios.” There is no doubt that the ‘incubating environment’ he is referring to here is Iran.

Through the US escalation by classifying the IRGC as a terror organization and the speculation related to the imminent outbreak of war between Hezbollah and Israel, whether Nasrallah made these remarks or not, Iran believes that it will be more engaged in military confrontation compared to what happened in 2006. This time, the confrontation will not be with Hezbollah alone. The Supreme Leader believes Hussein Salami is the man most suitable for  military confrontation with Israel as he is known for a strict and confrontational approach more than any other leader. He has the desire to engage in a military confrontation with Israel. Last January, Salami said that the strategy of the IRGC is to wipe Israel off the world map. His comments on the Strait of Hormuz were as tough as his comments on Israel.

He has repeatedly threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz from maritime navigation and to plant mines in case the US ceased Iranian oil exports. Salami has gone beyond the rhetoric of threats. He revealed some secrets of the movements of the IRGC. He said that the IRGC ordered the Houthi militias to target  Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea in July 2018. Whether the leaking of these statements by Salami was intended or not, the Iranian news sites that published the comments deleted them quickly.

However, despite the haste to delete the statements, they were picked up quickly by global websites. Salami’s irrational remarks and his repeated statements on military confrontation is one among many motives that has led Khamenei to remove Ali Jafari and to appoint him.


Editorial Team