Who is the new Qasem Soleimani? Meet Esmail Qaani

Born in Mashhad, 61-year-old Brig.-Gen. Esmail Qaani received his military training at the Imam Ali Officers Academy in Tehran. He joined the IRGC in his early 20s.

Esmail Qaani (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Esmail Qaani
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
After two decades of being the right-hand man to Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, Esmail Qaani has taken the reins of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. But who is he?
Born in Mashhad, Brig.-Gen Qaani, 61, received his military training at the Imam Ali Officers Academy in Tehran. He joined the IRGC in his early 20s and served in various divisions before being appointed commander of the Nasr-5 division and then of the 21st Imam Reza Division during the Iran-Iraq War.
Just after the war, he was appointed by then-IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei as the deputy commander of the Guard’s ground forces in Mashhad, where he oversaw the brutal crackdown on protesters in 1992.
He was appointed as deputy commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force in 1997 at around the same time as Soleimani. In addition to being deputy of intelligence at the IRGC joint staff, he was responsible throughout the years for the distribution of funds to proxy groups such as Hezbollah and other terrorists in Africa.
In 2012, the US Treasury under former president Barack Obama designated several entities as Specially Designated Terrorists: a trading company, a Nigerian shipping agent, the Iranian Yas Air cargo airline and three IRGC officials, including Qaani.
Noted in the designation was a Turkish inspection of one of the Yas flights bound for Syria, which listed the cargo of the manifest as spare auto parts. But it found weapons, including Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of ammunition and an assortment of mortar shells, grenades and rockets.
With the financial oversight of weapons shipments of the IRGC-Quds Force under his authority, Qaani is suspected of being behind the shipment.
In addition to the weapons, work to fund IRGC-Quds Force operations around the world was an additional reason for his being so designated.
As Soleimani’s deputy for the past 20 years, he is a familiar face among Iran’s allies across the world. Qaani has made several trips abroad, including to Gambia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Afghanistan, when the Fatemiyoun Brigade was at the height of its activities.
Thousands of Afghani fighters of the brigade have been sent to Syria to fight for the regime of President Bashar Assad. In late December, militia members from the 15,000-strong brigade released a video a short distance from the Israeli Golan Heights, threatening the Jewish state that it is their “ultimate goal.”
“Final target is that white mountain ahead,” a militant-speaking Afghani is heard saying in the video while pointing to snow-capped Mount Hermon in the distance, which is currently held by Israel. “And we’re so close to Israel.”
Despite having less charisma than his predecessor, Qaani took a lead role on the front lines, similar to Soleimani, and is still considered to be close to  Khamenei, who believes that Qaani will be able to keep the appearance of continuity.
Ahead of Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran on Monday, Qaani promised to continue his path “with the same force” and to work to remove America’s presence from the Middle East.
“God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he vowed.
With Qaani now in charge of Iran’s military actions abroad, he will likely usher in a wide range of operations to avenge the death of his former boss.