By Dr Salem Al Ketbi
Many experts and specialists have been discussing the recent change of leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The timing of the change is striking. It occurred just days before the second round of US sanctions against Iran are due to kick in. Of all the previous sanctions, the new package will be the biggest.
The circumstances of this change suggest that the new leader Salami and the former leader Jaafari are basically the same in terms of hardline stances. Both of them do what the Supreme Leader tells them to do. Neither has any say on escalation and calm in conflicts with the rest of world.
Therefore, I think Khamenei’s decision may have come from his feeling that Salami is better to implement his instructions in the next phase.
Khamenei founded his decision on what he called the need to change the leadership of his terrorist militias and the experience of Major General Hussein Salami, “because of your competence and valuable experience in public administration and your response to the various responsibilities of the revolutionary, jihadist and popular bodies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.”
According to the Supreme Leader, Major General Jaafari requested that this change be made to his desire “to work in the cultural field and to play a role in the soft war.” He was then appointed head of Baqiyatullah Al-A’zam Cultural and Social Headquarters.
The narrative is dubious, however. The commander of the Revolutionary Guard would not express his desire to withdraw at this particular time. Khamenei seems to have wanted to keep a high morale among the terrorist militia, so he made up the story that Jaafari wanted to be discharged.
Between 2007 and 2019, Jaafari was in charge of the Revolutionary Guard. The man has served beyond the usual period of militia leadership, which usually lasts ten years. Nevertheless, he still did not complete the entire extension period approved by Khamenei in July 2017. His term was to last until 2020.
Jafaari’s request for the end of his term of office just one year before the end of his term, not to retire, but to switch to soft power, does not make sense.
In my opinion, the reasons for changing the commander of the Revolutionary Guards have nothing to do with the role of the Revolutionary Guards in other countries. The Qods force led by General Qassem Soleimani is the one in charge of that.
Perhaps the change is related to the role of the Iranian Guards inside Iran and the country’s ability to defend itself in the event of a surprise military attack.
Under the new chief, the level of aggressiveness of the Revolutionary Guard is not going to change. Salami’s radical position towards the US and Israel, for example, is part of the role-playing game by the mullahs.
Besides, Khamenei is the one who sets the tone between escalation and de-escalation for everyone in the Iranian regime. Khamenei runs the system with an iron fist.
Salami’s hard-line statements on several occasions were not different from those of other former and current commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.
If this change is intended to send a threatening message to the outside, Khamenei may have sent the wrong message. The message brought the opposite of what he wanted. Many, including myself, believe that the change in the leadership of the Revolutionary Guards at the present stage reveals the high level of anxiety, panic and fear among the Iranian leaders.
Perhaps Khamenei reduced the next step to psychological warfare and verbal threats between Iran, on the one hand, and Israel and the US, on the other. But that would not take promoting the Deputy Commander of the Militia and removing his boss.
Salami’s position as deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard did not prevent him from making statements threatening Israel. The Revolutionary Guard generals often made inflammatory statements, but no one of them has dared to launch a single attack on Israel, despite the numerous and violent air strikes they have suffered on their camps in Syria.
The replacement in the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard was likely brought about by a sense of imminent danger in the minds of the mullahs. Their entire regime is in danger.
All evidence suggests that the regime is facing the most serious crisis in its history. Its only way out is by complying with the conditions laid down by the US.
Salem Al Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst, researcher and opinion writer. Member of @ChathamHouse and @londonpressclub.