Shortly after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tasked General Esmail Qaani with the leadership of Iran’s Quds Force — following the assassination of its former head, Qassem Soleimani, on January 3 — General Mohammad Hejazi was appointed as its new deputy commander.
Confirming earlier assessments, the Quds Force – an extraterritorial operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – will probably become more rigorous and ruthless in the post-Soleimani era. Hejazi’s appointment is a significant step in that direction.
Who is Mohammad Hejazi?
General Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi is perhaps the most versatile and experienced commander of the Revolutionary Guards.
General Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi is perhaps the most versatile and experienced commander of the Revolutionary Guards, from his educational and operational background, to his influential role in Iran’s domestic politics as well as foreign policy and regional security strategy.
He has a master’s in governmental management from the University of Tehran, and a PhD in strategic management from the Supreme National Defense University. The latter is an elite institution overseen by the General Staff of the Armed Forces, which, according to its website is focused on training “dignitaries, military and law enforcement commanders, and high-ranking managers of non-military organizations” from Iran and “friendly and Muslim countries” in various “strategic” areas. During his doctoral studies, he joined the IRGC-affiliated Imam Hussein University in Tehran as a faculty member, an engagement that continues to date.
An early-time revolutionary “present at the creation” of the Islamic Republic in 1979, he had a key role in confronting and quelling armed rebellions, most notably by ethnic Kurds, in Western Iran before moving on to take part in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
Hejazi became a go-to commander to help crackdown on dissent, and in the regional conflict zones where his knowledge of asymmetrical warfare and irregular force mobilization came in very handy.
During that bloody war, officially dubbed “Sacred Defense” in Iran, Hejazi was particularly active in mobilizing Basij volunteer forces and dispatching them to the front lines. This experience served him well later on, both in the domestic sphere where he became a go-to commander to help crackdown on dissent, and in the regional conflict zones where his knowledge of asymmetrical warfare and irregular force mobilization came in very handy.
It was unsurprising, therefore, that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei promoted him to the leadership of the Basij or “Mobilization Resistance Force.” The militia consisted of paid members and unpaid volunteers from all walks of life and was overseen by the Revolutionary Guards as an organic grassroots force that permeated almost all governmental institutions and spread the state ideology across society.
The Basij organization, which Hejazi marshalled from 1997 to 2007, was of paramount importance in crushing student demonstrations in the summer of 1999. It was even more vital during the widespread popular protests, known as the Green Movement, that followed the rigged reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
The latter undertaking earned him a perch on the European Union’s sanctions list for systematic violations of human rights in 2011. Hejazi, and the Basij units under his watch, had supported Ahmadinejad in his first presidential bid in 2005. They proved critical to the continuity of Ahmadinejad’s presidency until 2013, even though the maverick president fell out of favor with the Revolutionary Guards during his second term in office and more so after his departure.
With a decade-long leadership-level experience in Basij, Hejazi was appointed in 2007 as chair of the IRGC joint headquarters, and less than a year later as deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, to become the second highest IRGC figure after its commander-in-chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari.
In the wake of the 2009 post-election protests—which forces under his command at Tehran’s Sarallah Corps helped effectively contain, Hejazi was tasked with heading the department or “deputyship of procurement and logistics for industrial research” at the General Staff of the Armed Forces, a unit at the heart of technical efforts to develop Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. He maintained the post until 2014, becoming intimately familiar with the formidable challenges and complexities of acquiring sensitive equipment and materials for an isolated state with revisionist tendencies and under close international surveillance.
Again, it was unsurprising that he was also entrusted with the management of the Quds Force activities in Lebanon. He took great pains to make sure that Lebanese Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic’s chief non-state ally in the region, would have a decent arsenal of “precision missiles” as a reliable deterrent against Israel.
Under the new leadership of Esmail Qaani and Mohammad Hejazi, the Quds Force is expected to intensify and upgrade its support for Hezbollah and other non-state militia groups.
In August 2019, the Persian-language Twitter account of Israeli Defense Forces posted a tweet showing four senior members of the Revolutionary Guards including General Hejazi, whom it described as “people who imperil the future of Lebanon.” Under the new leadership of Esmail Qaani and Mohammad Hejazi, the Quds Force is expected to intensify and upgrade its support for Hezbollah and other non-state militia groups.
This is significant not only because the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani altered the traditionally established rules of engagement between Tehran and Washington, but also because the possibility of a Trump’s reelection in 2020 and continuation of his “maximum pressure” policy against Iran make military confrontation more likely in the future—hence a greater need for and reliance on this unconventional alliance.
Nurturing and empowering this network is now Mohammad Hejazi’s new mantle.