A new Iranian general has stepped out of the shadows to lead the country’s expeditionary Quds Force, becoming responsible for Tehran’s proxies across the Middle East as the Islamic Republic threatens the US with “harsh revenge” for killing its previous head Qassem Soleimani.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organisation that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Like his predecessor, a young Esmail Ghaani faced the carnage of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly-founded Quds, or Jerusalem, Force.
While much still remains unknown about Ghaani, 62, Western sanctions suggest he has long been in a position of power in the organisation.
In January 2015, Ghaani indirectly said that Iran sends missiles and weapons to Palestinians to fight Israel.
“The US and Israel are too small to consider themselves in line with Iran’s military power,” Ghaani said at the time. “This power has now appeared alongside the oppressed people of Palestine and Gaza in the form of missiles and weapons.”
“If there were no Islamic Republic, the US would have burned the whole region,” Ghaani once said.
Ghaani is now firmly in control of the Quds Force, while Iran’s leaders plan to avenge Soleimani’s death.
One of his first duties is likely to be overseeing whatever revenge Iran intends to seek for the US air strike early on Friday that killed his friend Soleimani.
According to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, Ghaani once said of his relationship with Soleimani: “We are children of war. We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle.”
The Guard has seen its influence grow ever-stronger both militarily and politically in recent decades.
A key driver of that influence comes from the elite Quds Force, which works across the region with allied groups, including Iraqi militiamen, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
In announcing Ghaani as Soleimani’s replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the new leader “one of the most prominent commanders” in service to Iran.
Born on August 8, 1957 in the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad, Ghaani grew up during the last decade of monarchy. He joined the Guard a year after the 1979 revolution.