Who is Esmail Qaani, the new leader of Iran's Quds Force?

Haitham Nouri , Saturday 4 Jan 2020

Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, the newly appointed commander of the country's Quds Force, is seen in Tehran, Iran, in this undated picture obtained January 3, 2020. (Reuters)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier Esmail Qaani the new chief commander of the Quds Force, after Qassem Soleimani, former head of the elite force, was killed in a US air strike near Baghdad's airport on Friday.

Qaani was born in Mashihad in 1958, and joined the Revolutionary Guard (RG) in 1980.

He moved to the capital Tehran to receive military training courses before being sent to Iran's long war with Iraq (1980-1988).

During the war Qaani led several brigades, including "Emmam Reza 21" and "Nasr 5".

After the war he joined the intelligence service of the RG, and in the mid-1990s he became the head of the department.

When Soleimani was appointed head of the Quds force, Qaani became his deputy in 1997.

Little is known about Qaani, however, he has been described as more extremist than Soleimani by Ali Hashem, editor of the Persian BBC service.

"The war in Syria is a matter of life or death for Iran," Qaani stated years ago.

In 2017, Qaani said the US had tried to destroy Iran but failed, and accused Washington of creating Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

He also boasted that Iran had killed more Americans than the US had killed Iranians.

He was the first to unveil that Yemen's Houthis have missiles with a range of more than 400km.

Like Soleimani, Qaani is a key player in the Syrian civil war. However, unlike his predecessor, Qaani has been vocal on Iran's internal politics.

In 2012, he became on the US Treasury Department list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons whose assets have been frozen and prohibited from doing business with US entities.

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