Vahidi was born in 1958 in Shiraz, Iran, with the surname Shahcheraqi. He joined the IRGC a year after the 1979 revolution. Vahidi very quickly rose to senior positions in the IRGC likely because of professional and personal relationships. For example, Vahidi was appointed deputy for internal security in the IRGC Intelligence unit and then intelligence chief in 1983, according to IRGC-linked Tasnim News. Akbar Barati, an early member of the IRGC and senior intelligence commander, suggested in an interview that Vahidi lacked proper intelligence experience upon his appointment in 1983, but credited him for his engagement and desire to learn. Tasnim News and other state media reports state that Vahidi served as IRGC Intelligence chief until the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Other accounts also state that Vahidi played a role in establishing the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in 1983.
Vahidi represented the IRGC in negotiations with the Reagan White House between 1985 and 1987, according to Mohsen Kangarlu, who coordinated the covert discussions to trade access to American military hardware for American hostages in Lebanon. Reagan Administration officials had also hoped for the talks to lead to broader ties with the Islamic Republic. The revelation of the negotiations led to scandals in both Iran and the United States.
Another critical player in these secret negotiations was Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then-Parliament speaker, deputy commander in chief, and later president. In his memoirs, Rafsanjani implied that he intervened to save Vahidi’s career – if not his life – in the aftermath of the Iraqi-backed Mojahedin-e Khalq (MKO) offensive into Iran in 1988. Vahidi was the responsible military commander of Kermanshah province where the MKO advanced before being pushed back by an Iranian counter-offensive. In the aftermath, Vahidi was arrested by military police. Rafsanjani wrote that he ordered military judicial officials to release Vahidi, which “seriously angered corps commanders,” and that the then-overall commander of the IRGC Mohsen Rezai had alleged charges against Vahidi for his poor performance during the MKO offensive, which he retracted under pressure from Rafsanjani.
Vahidi managed to emerge from this potentially career-ending episode and was appointed first commander of the Qods Force, established as a branch of the IRGC to organize its external operations by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei around 1990. Vahidi consolidated pre-existing IRGC units under this one Qods Force command. The Qods Force’s first major external deployment was in the Bosnian war in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Vahidi played a significant role in the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack in Buenos Aires. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman concluded in 2006 that the AMIA attack “was extensively discussed and was ultimately adopted by a consensus at the highest levels of the Iranian government.” As a result of Nisman’s investigation, an Argentinean court issued international arrest warrants for nine Iranian and Hezbollah officials, including Vahidi. Interpol subsequently issued Red Notices for Vahidi and five of his co-conspirators. Despite being an internationally wanted terrorist, Vahidi continued to rise the ranks of the Islamic Republic’s government.
According to US intelligence officials, Vahidi also established a tactical alliance with senior al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan in the 1990s and met with Ayman Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s second-in-command, several times. According to a European intelligence official, Zawahiri leveraged his long ties with Vahidi to negotiate a safe harbor for some al-Qaeda leaders in 2001. Vahidi remained Qods Force chief until 1997 or 1998 when Qasem Soleimani was appointed.
Following his tenure as Qods Force commander Vahidi transferred to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) as deputy for planning, a post he held until 2005. When former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president that year, Vahidi acted as the chief deputy defense minister, a sign that he could cultivate ties with officials outside of the Rafsanjani circle. He also acted as a committee chairman in the Expediency Council, an advisory body for the Supreme Leader that adjudicates disputes over legislation between the Parliament and Guardian Council.
During Ahmadinejad’s second term in 2009, Vahidi served as defense minister for four years and in that role pushed to produce a wide range of conventional weapons, including tanks, fighter planes, missiles, and armored personnel carriers.
Vahidi’s tenure as defense minister was controversial internationally due to his alleged AMIA involvement. In 2011, Argentina and its Jewish community protested Vahidi’s invitation to Bolivia to participate in a ceremony. He was forced to leave the country, and former Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized to the Argentinian Jewish community for hosting him.
Between 2013 and 2016, Vahidi directed the Defense Strategic Research Center, the research arm of the Armed Forces General Staff. In 2014, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Vahidi as a Foreign Affairs Strategic Council advisory body member. In 2016, he left the Defense Strategic Research Center to direct the Supreme National Defense Universe. Vahidi has studied electrical engineering and has a doctorate in strategic studies.
In August 2021, Vahidi presented his plan to the Parliament that included 148 executive actions. He pledged to support domestic production (theme of the Raisi administration), develop border areas, address narcotics addiction, “strengthen and support individual and social freedom, and support law enforcement.” The Islamic Republic, of course, has long pledged that it respects liberty, but its actions, including the widespread arrest of dissent and censorship, say otherwise.
A Parliamentarian who voted against Vahidi warned that Vahidi’s plan to increase the strength of governors would increase corruption. On the other hand, a parliamentarian who supported Vahidi declared that “the Zionist regime and opposition powers became angry following Vahidi’s introduction, and whenever the enemy is angry that means our path and selection is correct.”
Vahidi is known for his hardline views and takes a methodical approach to his work, as indicated in his recent research and academic-oriented positions. Previously, he warned that Israel would draw its “last breath” if it attacked the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. Following the 2020 US assassination of Soleimani, Vahidi called for “a series of incidents that would trap the air in the lungs of the Americans.”
The Interior Minister is a sensitive post for Khamenei, since Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) are the first security forces deployed in the event of domestic unrest. Vahidi’s predecessor Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, a civilian and associate of conservative politician and former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, oversaw the crackdown on the 2017-2018 and the November 2019 nationwide protests. The latter resulted in hundreds of deaths over just a few days. Raisi has now selected a former IRGC commander who has been in Khamenei’s circle of trust for this key post and who will certainly strive to strengthen LEF further in the face of potential mass protests on the horizon.