Iran’s new al-Quds Force deputy has experience repressing protests, helping proxies
“God is great, long live the [Supreme] Leader,” Iranian Brigadier-General Mohammad Hejazi said as he ceremonially received the decree appointing him deputy commander of al-Quds Force, the extraterritorial operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Best known for his role in suppressing domestic protests in Iran, Hejazi, 64, is a surprising candidate for a leadership position in al-Quds Force. However, with problems of Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran’s allies in Iraq taken into consideration, Hejazi may be just the type of leader al-Quds Force needs to suppress political protests in the region.
Hejazi’s tenure as commander of the Basij Resistance Force from March 11, 1998, to September 20, 2007, coincided with Mohammad Khatami’s two terms as Iran’s president.
Khatami’s promise of liberalising Iranian politics increased public demand for political freedom, which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei opposed and the Islamic Republic was incapable of delivering.
To counter Khatami and the reform movement, Khamenei gave Hejazi, the Basij and its affiliate plainclothes Ansar-e Hezbollah thugs free rein to undermine the president and terrorise the public.
During student protests in July 1999, Sarallah Headquarters of the Basij, under Hejazi’s personal command, and Ansar-e Hezbollah descended on the campus and the dormitories where 70 students were reportedly killed. Hejazi transformed the Basij and Ansar-e Hezbollah into a political pressure group against Khatami, who famously complained: “Every nine days a new crisis is manufactured for my cabinet!”
After the highly controversial June 12, 2009, Iranian presidential election, millions of Iranians took their protests against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the streets. Initially, the regime deployed the Law Enforcement Force to contain and suppress the protests but many police officers joined the protesters.
Once again Hejazi unleashed the Basij, the Sarallah Headquarters and its plainclothes vigilante allies to fight the prolonged struggle against the oppositional Green Movement and the society at large.
As the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Basij and their allies gradually contained the anti-government protests, on October 4, 2009, Khamenei appointed Hejazi deputy commander of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for preparedness, logistics and industrial research and development. At the time, the position appeared like a dead-end in Hejazi’s military career.
However, Hejazi’s “research and development” work may have been closely related to al-Quds Force’s activities abroad. On August 29, 2019, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, Israel Defence Force spokesman, said Hejazi was in charge of manufacturing precision-guided missiles in Lebanon. Fars News Agency’s most recent biography of Hejazi confirmed that and disclosed that he “had field responsibilities in one of the axes of the resistance front” in the course of the past years.
Hejazi, whose career mostly revolved around domestic security in Iran, seemed like an unlikely candidate for the position of al-Quds Force deputy, to which he was appointed January 20. However, domestic political problems of Iran’s allies in Lebanon and Iraq taken into consideration, he may be well-prepared for the job. It remains to be seen if the IRGC’s repressive methods in Iran in 1999 and 2009 can be replicated in much more complex political settings of present-day Lebanon and Iraq.
Hejazi’s service in Lebanon in more recent times indicates he has gained a lot of experience in dealing with Lebanese Hezbollah and perhaps other Iranian proxies.
Hejazi may not be the charismatic leader Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani was but he and other al-Quds Force commanders are well equipped to continue Soleimani’s work.