Tehran Calls Up Retired Gen. Rezaei After Losses in Aleppo
09 June 2016
By Amir Taheri
It was almost a month ago that retired Major-General Mohsen Rezaei, a former
Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), suddenly appeared
in public wearing full military uniform and lots of decorations to announce
that he was returning to ''active service.''
Everyone wondered what all that meant for a man who had left the military to
build a political career that included two unsuccessful attempts at winning
the presidency of the Islamic Republic.
''What persuaded General Rezaei to seek a new military career?'' an analyst at
the FARS news agency run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wondered at
Part of the answer came last Tuesday when Rezaei told a hastily arranged press
briefing in Tehran to express his ''anger, sorrow and dismay about Iran's
heavy losses in the latest battles around Aleppo, the war-torn Syrian city.
''Their martyrdom shall not remain unavenged,'' he said. ''We will liberate
Aleppo soon and wipe out the takfiri terrorists.''
Since Rezaei had no officially announced position within the military
hierarchy, it wasn't quite clear on whose authority he was making those
A hint of an answer came on Thursday with the buzz that the former commander
of the IRGC had been appointed as Military Adviser to the'' Supreme Guide''
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The buzz started almost at the same time as reports, unconfirmed officially,
that Khamenei had asked General Qassem Soleimani, the man who heads the Quds
(Jerusalem) Corps and is in charge of ''exporting revolution'' to step aside.
To counter those reports, Soleimani, a master of public relations, launched a
hashtag ''Soleimani is in Aleppo'' to calm at least some of his critics.
The official news agency IRNA ran a front-page story claiming that Soleimani's
hashtag had ''terrorized the takfiris.'' However, the general, known for his
PR stunts and ''selfies'' published on websites was firmly in Tehran
Due to the byzantine nature of Iranian politics, it is not always easy to know
what is actually going on. ''It is possible that they spread the news of
Rezaei taking overall command in Syria to improve morale in the Iranian
military, badly shaken by recent heavy losses,'' says analyst Hassan Bassir.
''The authorities may also be sending a reassuring signal on the eve of
planned funerals for martyrs in more than a dozen cities tomorrow.''
In the past few weeks, Rezaei has been consulting with a range of military
commanders and political advisers, initially to prepare a report for the
''Supreme Guide'' on the state of the various paramilitary groups that Iran
has created in Arab countries, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hashad Al-Shaabi
in Iraq and a number of similar groups in Syria. Since all those paramilitary
units are under Soleimani's command, it was clear that Khamenei wanted an
outsider's assessment of the ''selfie'' general's performance.
''All of Soleimani's ''children'' have sustained big loses in recent months
but achieved little,'' says Massoud Vaziri an analyst on paramilitary
operations. ''The Lebanese Hezbollah's fighting units have been decimated and
are no longer capable of pursuing what is a low intensity war with no end in
The Fatimyoun Brigade, a mixture of Afghani, Pakistani, and Iraqi Shiite
volunteers, has lost so many men that it can no longer be regarded as a
credible fighting unit.
Rezai was an engineering student when he joined Ayatollah Khomeini's
revolution in 1978. In 1979 he joined the newly created Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps and, a year later, enlisted to fight in the Iran-Iraq war. After
only 18 months in the war he was appointed Commander in Chief of the IRGC at
the tender age of 27. He remained IRGC's chief for almost 17 years, building
it into a veritable parallel army with its own air force, navy Marines and
airborne commando units.
Rezaei, whose full name is Rezaei-Mir Qa'ed, was born in 1954 in Bonehdar Baba
Ahmadi, a remote village in the Zagross Mountains in the southwestern province
of Luristan where warlike tribes teach their sons to mount a horse and shoot
from the age of four.
However, General Rezaei has tried to cultivate his image as a thinking
general, seldom losing an occasion to remind everyone that he holds a
doctorate in political science, obtained after his retirement.
According to Hussein Kanani-Moqaddam, a former IRGC commander and a friend of
Rezaei, the retired general wrote a letter to Khamenei last April asking the
''Supreme Guide'' to let him return to military service. ''The supreme leader
accepted Rezaei's request to rejoin the military without a specific
assignment,'' he says.
Rezaei, however, believed that he was coming back with specific aims. In a
statement published by his website TBANAK, he wrote: ''The next decade in the
region will be turbulent, which is why I asked the supreme leader to pass my
experiences to the next generations. We need power for the sake of security in
If confirmed, Rezaei's arrival as coordinator of Iran's military efforts in
Syria will confirm two points. Firstly, Iran is no longer prepared to play
second-string in Syria and will insist on planning, commanding and executing
operations where its forces are involved.
Secondly, Iranian leaders have understood that the relatively easy way in
which they seized control of Lebanon through Hezbollah isn't applicable to
either Syria or Iraq where more and more massive direct Iranian military
involvement may be required. And that, in turn, would require a pair of safe
hands, like Rezaei's, as opposed to Soleimani's smoke-and-mirror expertise.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran,
London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005,
he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.