Mohammad Hejazi: Deputy Commander of the IRGC's Quds Force

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Introduction

Following the death of Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike, his deputy Esmail Qaani was appointed to command Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (IRGC-QF). Two weeks later, Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi - a shadowy officer with a storied career in the IRGC - became Qaani’s vice-commander. Following his appointment, sources claimed that Hejazi would assume much of the Quds Force field command responsibilities. 

Youth and Early Revolutionary Days

Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi was born in the year 1956 in the Iranian city of Isfahan.  He was born into a devout family, which likely influenced his decision to support Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religio-political Wilayat al-Faqih ideology.

Hejazi holds a Masters in Governmental Management from the University of Tehran. Hejazi also obtained a PhD in Strategic Management from the Supreme National Defense University, which is overseen by the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces. While obtaining his doctorate, he joined the IRGC-affiliated Imam Hussein University as a faculty member, a position he maintains to this day.

Hejazi was an early adherent of Khomeini’s 1979 revolution and joined the IRGC soon after. Hezbollah’s Alahed newspaper describes him as “one of the most prominent veteran commanders of the IRGC, which joined its ranks at its formation.” 

During this period, Hejazi confronted and quelled armed rebellions against the new regime, most notably by Iran’s ethnic Kurdish population. Hejazi also played a critical role in Iran’s efforts during its war with Iraq, helping recruit and mobilize Basij forces in the western and southwestern battlefronts. During this time, he served as deputy IRGC commander for the Second District. He also subsequently served in three successive deputy commander positions: in District 4 of the Salman Base, and the Quds Force Base. 

Rise in the IRGC and in Khamenei’s Orbit

During the 1990s Hejazi also served as the IRGC’s Lebanon official, and is suspected of being involved in planning the July 18, 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Hejazi – acting as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s intelligence and security adviser –  was a key participant in the August 1993 meeting chaired by Khamenei where the decision to bomb the AMIA center was approved. President Rafsanjani, Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati were also present.

Hejazi had risen through the ranks of the Basij during the Iran-Iraq War. He was commissioned as an IRGC officer and soon after assumed the role of the paramilitary force’s deputy coordinator. In March 1998, he was appointed  commander of the Basij Mobilization Forces, a post which he held for around a decade. During this time, Hejazi drew on that anti-riot experience in quelling the student protests that erupted in 1999. A known hardliner, Hejazi is alleged to have played an important role in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2005 presidential election.

After his term as commander of the Basij, Hejazi was elevated to the position of chairman of the Joint Staff of the Revolutionary Guards, where he served from 2007-2008. He then served for a short stint as the IRGC’s deputy commander-in-chief from 2008-2009 and simultaneously the deputy IRGC commander at the Tharollah barracks in Tehran. 

While holding this position, Hejazi played a decisive role in using the Basij and other forces under his command to crack down on the so-called “Green Revolution” – the 2009 popular uprising which erupted after President Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection. For his actions, the European Union (EU) sanctioned Hejazi on October 10, 2011, accusing his “Sarollah [Tharollah] Corps [of playing] a central role in the post-election crackdown.” The EU also accused Hejazi of being “the author of a letter sent to the Ministry of Health on 26 June 2009 forbidding the disclosure of documents or medical records of anyone injured or hospitalized during post-elections events, implying a cover up.”

Hejazi’s Recent Activities

In 2009, Hejazi became the deputy chief of the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces for Readiness, Logistics, and Industrial Research, a position he seems to have held until 2014. Pro- regime outlets state that during the six year gap from 2014 until his current appointment as deputy Quds Force commander Hejazi, “was given battlefield responsibilities on one of the Resistance Axis fronts.”

It is likely that this “Resistance Axis front” was Lebanon. On August 29, 2019, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) purported to expose “the identities of three senior officers in Iran’s [IRGC] involved in Hezbollah’s attempt to develop and acquire precision guided missiles in Lebanon.” The IDF specifically named “Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi” as one of those IRGC officers, describing him as the “commander of Iran’s precision guided missile project in Lebanon,” and stating that he “directly commands Iranian personnel stationed in Lebanon.” 

However, it’s unclear how much progress the regime has made on its precision guided missile (PGM) project. As late as March 1, 2020 IDF International Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that, “while Hezbollah possesses a massive arsenal of regular rockets…it has yet to achieve the capability to mass produce these PGMs.” While Conricus alleged that Hezbollah is “close” to achieving that goal, in August 2019, he also stated that “according to our assessments, Hezbollah does not yet have an industrial capability to manufacture precision-guided munitions — not for lack of trying,” noting that the group did not possess “significant amounts” of PGMs in its arsenal. 

Conricus’ statements echoed an earlier assessment by Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman, the Chief of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman). On December 11, 2018 Maj. Gen. Hyman told a session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that despite Hezbollah developing its missile capabilities it did not “possess the industrial capability to convert and produce precision weapons.” 

Conclusion

Mohammad Hejazi’s life and military career demonstrates that he is well-equipped to handle the daily command of the Quds Force. His extensive experience on several battlefronts—both domestic and foreign—uniquely position him to handle the tasks of the IRGC’s foreign operations arm, including recruitment for Tehran’s proxies, improving their armed capabilities, and training them in the counterinsurgency roles that proved vital to Iran’s victories in Syria and Iraq. In addition, Hejazi’s stature within the Iranian regime—his experience working directly with Khamenei and his multiple roles within the top brass of the IRGC—makes him a potential successor to Qaani.