TEHERAN • A new general has stepped out of the shadows to lead Iran's expeditionary Quds Force, becoming responsible for Teheran's proxies across the Middle East as the country threatens the US with "harsh revenge" for killing the Quds Force's leader Qassem Soleimani.
While much is still unknown about Major-General Esmail Ghaani, 62, Western sanctions suggest he has long been in a position of power in the organisation. And likely one of his first duties will be to oversee whatever revenge Iran intends to seek for the US air strike last Friday that killed his long-time friend, Maj-Gen Soleimani.
"We are children of war," Maj-Gen Ghaani once said of his relationship with Maj-Gen Soleimani, according to Iran's state-run Irna news agency. Like his predecessor, the young Ghaani faced the carnage of Iran's eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds Force.
The Force is part of the Revolutionary Guards, a 125,000-strong paramilitary group that answers only to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It oversees the country's ballistic missile programme, and has its naval forces shadow the US Navy in the Persian Gulf, among other responsibilities.
In announcing Maj-Gen Ghaani's appointment, Ayatollah Khamenei called the new leader "one of the most prominent commanders" in service to Iran.
But while Maj-Gen Soleimani's exploits in Iraq and Syria launched a thousand analyses, Maj-Gen Ghaani has remained much more in the shadows of the organisation. He has only occasionally come up in the Western or even Iranian media. But his personal story broadly mirrors that of his predecessor.
Born on Aug 8, 1957, in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, Maj-Gen Ghaani grew up during the last decade of monarchy. He joined the Guards a year after the 1979 revolution and was first deployed to put down the Kurdish uprising in Iran that followed the Shah's downfall.
Iraq then invaded Iran, launching an eight-year war. Maj-Gen Ghaani joined the Quds Force after that. He worked with Maj-Gen Soleimani, as well as led counter-intelligence efforts. Western analysts believe while Maj-Gen Soleimani focused on nations to Iran's west, Maj-Gen Ghaani's remit was to concentrate on nations to the east, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 2012, the US Treasury sanctioned Maj-Gen Ghaani, describing him as having authority over "financial disbursements" to proxies affiliated with the Quds Force. The sanctions particularly tied him to a shipment of weapons seized at a port in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2010.