Iran's all-powerful Quds Forces suffered another loss ten days ago

On April 18, 2021, Mohammad Hejazi, deputy commander of the Quds Forces, died.  His death is the second blow to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) command in the 16 months following Qassem Soleimani's death in January 2020.  This may have major repercussions for the Iranian regime because it is really the Quds Forces that have controlled the government for decades.

After President Trump ordered Soleimani's assassination, the Quds Forces lost the mastermind behind planning attacks and controlling the regime's proxy forces in the Middle East.  However, immediately after Soleimani's death, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Mohammad Hejazi to the position of deputy commander of the Quds Forces, working under the new commander, Esmail Qaani.

Hejazi brought with him a long and significant history that helped maintain continuity.  He joined the IRGC after the Islamic Republic took power and was the commander of the Basij for ten years.  During Khomeini's long Iran-Iraq War, Hejzi played an important role in sending young students to the southern front to clear minefields.  After the war, Hejazi was responsible for suppressing political dissent and ethnic minorities in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan.

Hejazi oversaw Tehran's Sarallah base during the post-presidential protests in 2010, which was the organ charged with suppressing the protests in the capital.  Dozens of people were killed and thousands detained during these protests.

His role in cracking down on protesters and violating human rights put Hejazi on both United States and E.U. sanctions list.  In 2019, the Israeli military launched an unprecedented Twitter campaign tying Hejazi to a secret project with Hezb'allah to manufacture precision-guided missiles intended to attack Israel.

When Hejazi died on April 18, the regime was cagey about what caused his death.  The IRGC public relations department issued a statement that he'd died from a heart condition.  However, shortly afterward, IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif stated that the cause of death was the coronavirus and the effect of chemical exposure during the Iran-Iraq war.

Social media users also claimed that his death wasn't from a heart condition.  The son of Hemmat (another killed IRGC commander) tweeted: "I just want to say that the cause of the death was not a heart condition."

General Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh is replacing Hejazi. At 59, Fallahzadeh is significantly younger than the deceased 65-year-old Hejazi.  Unlike Hejazi, who was part of the military since the Iranian Revolution began, Fallahzadeh is a second-generation commander who rose through the ranks during the Iran-Iraq War.  Still, in his own way, his reputation is just as awful as Hejazi's.  After 2007, he was responsible for leading Quds Forces raids into Syria.  According to one source, "his time in Syria was marked by human rights abuses, many of which he freely admitted in comments to fellow Iranian officials or state media."

Whatever Fallahzadeh brings to the role, the fact is that losing two prominent old-timers — Soleimani and Hejazi — from the top ranks of Quds leadership is a blow to an organization that is still the most powerful force in Iran.  While the government has moved quickly to fill the gaps left by the deaths, it's reasonable to assume that there are power struggles taking place within the Quds Forces and between the Quds Forces and the mullahs.

Iran still faces deadly economic and international isolation, as well as widespread civil unrest.  Having instability in the Quds ranks is the last thing it needs to help maintain its grip on power.

Image: Mohammad Hejazi by Tasmin News Agency.  CC BY 4.0.

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