When Esmail Qaani was chosen to guide the Quds Force, an elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in January 2020, instantly after Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by the U.S. exterior the Baghdad airport, many doubted whether or not the veteran would be capable of fill the very giant sneakers of the ‘Shadow Commander’.
Over the years, Soleimani, who was the chief of the Quds Force from 1998 till his dying, had constructed a legendary standing within the Islamic Republic because the protector of the revolution and the drive multiplier of Iranian affect in West Asia. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, known as him “a living martyr” whereas he was main the Quds Force. Both his detractors and admirers described him as “the lynchpin” for his function in constructing a community of militias that have been loyal to Tehran, which got here to be known as the ‘Axis of Resistance’. He was the viceroy of Iran’s proxies. And his dying left an enormous vacuum, not solely in Tehran’s command construction but in addition in its ahead defence doctrine, this was the house Brig. Gen. Qaani needed to fill.
Four years later, Gen. Qaani is on the centre of a spiralling regional safety disaster in West Asia. As the exterior arm of the IRGC, the Quds Force is accountable for coordinating with the completely different Iran-backed militia teams, from Hezbollah (Lebanon) to Hamas (Palestine) and Houthis (Yemen) to Kataib Hezbollah (Iraq). The axis grew to become hyperactive ever because the Israel-Hamas struggle broke out on October 7, 2023.
Hezbollah is participating Israeli troops in a restricted means from Southern Lebanon; Houthis have turned the Red Sea right into a battlefield and the Iraq-based Popular Mobilisation Forces, together with Kataib Hezbollah, have carried out not less than 165 assaults on U.S. troops and property in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since October 7.
On January 28, three U.S. service personnel have been killed in a drone assault on an American logistics hub in Jordan, probably by Kataib Hezbollah, escalating the tensions. The assault has triggered calls in Washington for a direct assault on Iran. Will it restrain Gen. Qaani’s community?
Children of struggle
Born in 1957 within the holy metropolis of Mashhad, which hosts the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia Islam, Esmail Qaani grew up within the Shah’s Persia. Like tens of millions of others in his technology, he was additionally swept by the revolutionary fervour of the late Nineteen Seventies, which shook Iran and toppled its hundreds of years previous monarchy. In the early Nineteen Eighties, when the newly born theocratic republic was combating a struggle of existence with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Mr. Qaani joined the IRGC, which was based within the rapid aftermath of the 1979 revolution to guard the Islamic Republic.
Born in 1957 within the holy metropolis of Mashhad, which hosts the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shia Islam, Esmail Qaani grew up within the Shah’s Persia
In the early Nineteen Eighties, when the newly born theocratic republic was combating a struggle of existence with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Mr. Qaani joined the IRGC
His battlefield expertise, shut ties with the Supreme Leader in addition to unflinching dedication and loyalty to the revolutionary regime helped his quiet ascent within the IRGC
According to 1 account, IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai was searching for guardsmen to type a division in Iran’s Khorasan province. Morteza Qorbani, one in all his deputies, gave him three names — Nour-Ali Shoushtari, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Esmail Qaani (all three would go on to grow to be influential figures within the Islamic Republic). By the time the struggle got here to an finish in 1988, Rezai appointed Mr. Qaani as the top of the Fifth Nasr Division, which fought a number of heroic battles throughout the ‘Sacred Defence’, because the struggle with Iraq is understood among the many state circles. He was, within the phrases of Mr. Khamenei, “one of the most prominent military commanders during the Sacred Defence”.
Gen. Qaani later recalled that his shut relationships with each Soleimani and Ayatollah Khamenei went again to the times of the Iraq struggle. “We are the children of war,” he stated about himself and Soleimani. Mr. Khamenei, additionally from Mashhad, used to guide mourning ceremonies for Imam Reza with “the boys from Mashhad,” who served within the Fifth Nasr Division, Gen. Qaani as soon as wrote in a state booklet.
His battlefield experiences, shut ties with the Supreme Leader in addition to unflinching dedication and loyalty to the revolutionary regime helped his quiet ascent within the IRGC. In late Nineties, after Soleimani was appointed because the commander of the Quds Force, Gen. Qaani was named his deputy. While Solaimani’s focus was on constructing the Shia networks throughout West Asia, Gen. Qaani was accountable for the Guards’ actions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian republics. Some reviews say he was instrumental in Iran’s battle in opposition to drug trafficking from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (1996 to 2001) in addition to Iran’s help for the Northern Alliance, the ethnic militia coalition that was combating the Taliban from northern Afghanistan within the late Nineties with help from Iran, India, Russia and Central Asian international locations.
Unlike Soleimani, who was seen as a charismatic and in style chief at dwelling, Gen. Qaani stored a low-profile, staying focussed on the operational features of the Quds Force. He spoke hardly ever to the media, and at any time when he did, he unapologetically displayed his loyalty to the revolution. “The Islamic Republic is the safe haven of all [world revolutionary] movements,” he stated on one event, defending the nation’s help for various militias within the area. In 2012, when Syria was falling into chaos, Gen. Qaani instructed a state media outlet that the presence of the IRGC in Syria “prevented many massacres”, admitting, for the primary time, that Iranian troops have been current in Syria, combating alongside the forces of President Bashar al-Assad within the nation’s civil struggle.
When his profile rose throughout the IRGC, it additionally attracted worldwide scrutiny. In March 2012, Gen. Qaani was added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List by the U.S. Department of Treasury. The designation acknowledged that Gen. Ghani’s “authority covers IRGC-QF [Quds Force], financial disbursements to IRGC-QF elements, including elements in Africa, as well as to various terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.”
Gen. Qaani took over the Quds Force at a time when the shadow struggle between Israel and Iran was intensifying. The U.S. hoped that taking out Soleimani would weaken Iran’s abroad operations. But from 2020, the Quds Force, beneath the command of Gen. Qaani, doubled down on its help for the militias. During the identical interval, Israel had stepped up focused assaults in opposition to Iranian property and figures each inside and outdoors Iran. The nation was grappling with a collection of protests. Arab international locations have been transferring nearer in the direction of Israel. The Mullahs have been beneath strain.
In early 2023, Gen. Qaani held a collection of clandestine conferences, reviews about which emerged later, with the leaders of the pro-Iran militia teams. Their agenda: to launch a contemporary wave of assaults on Israeli targets.
After the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel, Gen. Qaani publicly declared the Quds Force’s help for Hamas. “Your brothers in the Axis of Resistance stand united with you … the resistance will not allow the enemy to achieve its dirty goals in Gaza and Palestine,” Gen. Qaani stated in a message to Hamas. He was not bluffing. In the previous 4 months, the Axis has carried out a number of assaults, from the Red Sea to the U.S. hub in Jordan, turning the Gaza struggle right into a regional safety disaster.
With pro-Iran militias’ Jordan assault and America’s counter strikes in Syria and Iraq, the disaster has entered right into a circle of retaliatory violence, with potential for an all-out struggle. Gen. Esmail Qaani, calm, resolute and ruthless, sits on the centre of this vortex.