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The IRGC Strategic Brain Trust | Part 2: Ahmadian, Hejazi, and Jafari


11 Aug 2012 23:35Comments

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Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California, is a columnist for Tehran Bureau and contributes regularly to other Internet and print media.

Part 1: Ghasem Soleimani and Ahmad Vahidi

Shaping the Guards' strategy, from asymmetric warfare to the Mosaic Doctrine.

[ series ] The preceding article in this two-part series offered a look at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' two most influential strategists, Major General Ghasem Soleimani and Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi. The core of the Guards' strategic brain trust includes three other high-ranking officers: Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian and Brigadier General Seyyed Mohammad Hejazi, followed by Guard chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Ali Akbar Ahmadian

25bcaed9-0208-4eb7-8b76-0639d03c68d4_0.gif While other senior officers such as Soleimani, Vahidi, and Jafari have been the focus of attention in the West, one of Iran's most talented military strategists is the relatively unknown Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian. He was born in 1961 in the town of Babak in Kerman province. An outstanding student, he graduated from high school in Kerman and was admitted to the University of Tehran's medical school in 1979. When the Iran-Iraq War broke out the following September, he left the university and joined the Guards and the Basij militia. After his training, he fought at the front in Khuzestan province.

In 1981, a leftist guerrilla group led by Ashraf Dehghani -- a key member of the communist guerrillas who fought the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi -- began to attack government buildings in Bandar Abbas, Iran's main port during the war. Ahmadian and two other Guard officers were dispatched to Bandar Abbas, where they led a successful effort against Dehghani's group. In March 1982, the Iranian Army and the Guards launched the Fath ol-Mobin operation in Khuzestan. Ahmadian took part in the operation, which liberated almost 1,000 square miles that had been occupied by Iraqi forces and essentially eliminated the possibility that Iraq could again attack the strategic towns of Dezful, Shush (Susa), and Andimeshk. After the operation, Guard chief Mohsen Rezaei made Ahmadian a member of the corps' command council and put him in charge of coordinating Guard forces in the provinces of Hormozgan, Kerman, and Sistan and Baluchistan. He was subsequently promoted to chief of staff of the Guard forces in the southeast. The forces under his command took part in several important operations against Iraq.

In 1984, the Guards created five military districts around Iran; Ahmadian was appointed commander of District 4 and the Nooh (Noah) base in Bandar Abbas. The vast district included the provinces of Fars, Bushehr, Kerman, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Hormozgan, and Yazd. The next year, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the Guards to form their own naval and air force wings, and Ahmadian was put in charge of the Guards' maritime forces. After the war ended in July 1988, he was commissioned as a naval officer and appointed deputy chief of the Iranian Navy, then under the command of Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. He also returned to the University of Tehran and graduated as a dentist (he is often accorded the salutation Rear Admiral Dr.). He also received an M.S. in defense sciences from the National Defense University.

In July 2000, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Ahmadian chief of staff of the Guards' forces (a position just below that of the Guards' top commander), replacing Brigadier General Hossein Alaei, a popular war hero. (In an article published this January, Alaei implicitly compared Khamenei to the Shah and the present state of affairs to the era immediately before the 1979 Revolution. He was criticized by some hardline Guard officers, including Mohammad Hejazi, and later claimed that his article had been misinterpreted.) Ahmadian was credited as chief of staff with modernizing the Guards' organization and streamlining its operations. For two years, he was also the commander of Imam Hossein University, a Guard-controlled institution that instills ideological "purity" in the Guards' officer corps. After Jafari was appointed Guard chief in September 2007, Khamenei named Ahmadian to head the Guards' Strategic Center, a post he still holds.

Ahmadian is credited as one of the very first senior officers to institutionalize the strategy of asymmetric warfare in Iran's military doctrine. It was under his command that the Guards' navy developed its asymmetric warfare strategy to counter the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet. Lessons were learned when the U.S. Navy, together with NATO forces, intervened in the Iran-Iraq War, saying it was protecting Arab nations' oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. They destroyed roughly one quarter of Iran's large warships in just one day, April 18, 1988. The Guards' naval command consequently decided to rely on fast "swarming" boats, of which it now has over 1,500, and land-based missiles on the shores of the Persian Gulf. The effectiveness of Iran's asymmetric warfare strategy has already been amply demonstrated in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and particularly in the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah in summer 2006. Indeed, the June 28 Pentagon report referenced in part 1 states, "Iran's unconventional forces are trained according to its asymmetric warfare doctrine and would present a formidable force while defending Iranian territory."

Like Soleimani, Ahmadian does not often speak publicly. But he is known to be a hardliner who believes that the Guards are justified in intervening in all aspects of national affairs to "protect the Revolution." He has stated this many times, most recently on July 17. He has also said that while the threat of what he calls "soft power" has been recognized by the Islamic Republic's leadership, not much attention has been paid to what he calls the "soft threat" -- presumably that of Western culture and, more generally, the Internet and social media networks. A collection of some of the many lectures he has given on the subject has been published.

Seyyed Mohammad Hejazi

23_8512130524_L600.jpgBrigadier General Seyyed Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, known as Seyyed Mohammad Hejazi, was born in 1956 in Isfahan. After completing high school there, he was admitted to the University of Tehran. He joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps almost immediately after it was founded in May 1979.

Shortly after the Revolution, Kurdish dissident groups -- most prominently the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the communist Revolutionary Organization of Kurdish Toilers (Komalah) -- clashed with central government forces in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces. In spring 1980, by order of President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the Army and the Guards dispatched additional forces to the region, of which Hejazi was a part. Intense fighting broke out, killing a large number of combatants on both sides, as well as many civilians.

When the war with Iraq began in September 1980, Hejazi was in charge of dispatching militia forces to the southern front in Khuzestan. He then worked at the headquarters of the Guards' District 2, encompassing the west and southwest. He subsequently served in three successive deputy command positions: of District 4, of the Salman base, and of the Quds Force base.

After the war, Hejazi was commissioned as a Guard officer and became deputy commander of the Basij forces, in charge of coordination. After Mohammad Khatami's victory in the presidential election of May 1997, Khamenei made extensive changes in the military's command structure; Hejazi was appointed commander of the Basij militia in March 1998, a post he held for more than nine years.

During his tenure as Basij commander, Hejazi played a key role in opposing Khatami's reform program. He consistently criticized the reformists, and the Basij forces under his command -- as well as other paramilitary forces receiving direct or indirect Basij support, such as the vigilante group Ansaar-e Hezbollah -- actively resisted reform around the country. Basij and Ansaar-e Hezbollah members were responsible, for instance, for assaults on Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri and Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani on September 4, 1998, and the violent attack on students at the University of Tehran dormitory in July 1999.

Under Hejazi's command, the Basij also played a key role in the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005. It is widely believed that Khamenei suggested to the Guard and the Basij commanders, including Hejazi, that they order their members to vote for Ahmadinejad in the election's second round and to bring to the voting stations as many family members and friends as possible. (The first round's tally had already been manipulated to enable Ahmadinejad to surpass Mehdi Karroubi as the number-two vote getter after Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, placing him in the runoff.) In a historic letter he wrote to Khamenei after the election, Karroubi complained about the intervention by Basij forces.

In September 2007, Khamenei appointed Hejazi to replace Ahmadian as Guard chief of staff. The following spring, Hejazi was appointed as chief deputy to Jafari, the top Guard commander, replacing Brigadier General Morteza Rezaei (no relation to Mohsen Rezaei). In October 2009, Hejazi was appointed deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, a post that he still holds.

Hejazi has never been shy about intervening in politics. He has made it clear that he is an ultra-hardliner and has never missed a chance to criticize the opposition and democratic groups, leveling all sorts of accusations against them. He has frquently used his influence to help like-minded comrades and played a major part in the violent suppression of the Green Movement in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election. In the campaign for the Ninth Majles elections that were held a few months ago, he supported Jebheh Paaydaari Enghelab-e Eslami, a hardline group led by the reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.

Mohammad Ali Jafari

156579_675.jpg I have previously profiled the Guards' chief, Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari. My sources in Tehran tell me that he is not very popular among the Guards' rank and file, and even among some senior officers. Some believe that he was appointed Guard chief in September 2007 over more deserving officers because he would kiss Khamenei's feet whenever they were in a meeting.

However, Jafari is also credited with several strategic innovations that are now part of Iran's military doctrine, as well as the thinking of its political leaders. After his 2005 appointment as director of the Guards' Center for Strategic Studies, Jafari ordered research carried out into the so-called colored revolutions that had taken place in the former Soviet sphere. The Islamic Republic was worried that the West might trigger a similar revolution in Iran, a threat brought home by regional events in early 2005: Lebanon's Cedar Revolution, which lasted from February to April, and the Blue Revolution in Kuwait, which in March saw large demonstrations in support of women's suffrage. Jafari accused the United States of pursuing a policy of soft regime change in Iran after it had failed to overthrow the Islamic Republic through more aggressive means -- a theme now echoed by the hardliners. He argued that the most important danger to the Islamic Republic was posed by the "internal enemy," referring to the reform movement. The studies led the Guards to establish the Al-Zahra and Ashura brigades, which serve as anti-riot units within the organizational structure of the Basij force.

Together with Ahmadian, Jafari also led the successful effort to have the Guards adopt asymmetric warfare as their core strategy. Three days after he was appointed Guard chief on September 1, 2007, Jafari said,

Given the enemy's numerical or technological superiority, Sepah [the Guards] will use asymmetric warfare capabilities, such as those used by Hezbollah in its 2006 war with Israel in Lebanon. Iranian strategy will also reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As soon as he assumed the top Guard post, Jafari focused on the "internal enemy" by reorganizing the corps. He took two major initiatives: absorbing the Basij, making it one of the Guards' five branches, along with its ground, air, and naval wings and the Quds Force; and decentralizing the Guards' command structure by creating 31 districts and local command centers, 29 in provincial capitals and two in Tehran. This is now known as the Mosaic Doctrine. The idea is to give greater flexibility to Guard commanders in handling riots and demonstrations, and to enable the Guards to better survive a surgical attack by the United States or Israel aimed at decapitating their command structure. The net effect of the initiatives has been to increase the Guards' power to intervene in the political process.


The five strategists surveyed in this series are generally considered loyal to Khamenei. But as I have been emphasizing for years (see here and here, for example) and as well-informed sources in Tehran have recently confirmed to me, many of the hardline Guard commanders have their own agenda and the collaboration between the military and religious establishments will survive only so long as the clerics are useful to that agenda. I will soon write about one aspect of the military hardliners' agenda that differs from Khamenei's wishes -- the elimination of the post of president.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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