Khamenei Appoints Hossein Salami as New Revolutionary Guard Corps Head
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed General Hossein Salami to head the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Sunday, April 21. Salami is replacing Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, who served as head of the IRGC for twelve years. The appointment came weeks after US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), marking the first time the US has assigned this label to part of another government.
The IRGC is a central Iranian institution that plays a major role in Iran’s domestic politics and economy. The group comprises the country’s most powerful military institution, with approximately 130,000 combatants and operatives in places like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. As its head, Salami has threatened Israel, the US, European countries, and Bahrain, and wants to extend Tehran’s regional and global influence.
Although Salami threatened to erase the “Zionist regime” in Israel and to “increase the range of our missiles” if Europe becomes a threat, the IRGC is facing financial restrictions and pressure from Iranians who object to the institution’s foreign involvement, especially as the costs fall on Iranian taxpayers. Nonetheless, Salami has said that he and the IRGC were proud of being designated a terrorist group by Washington.
Tehran, in retaliation, declared the US a “state sponsor of terrorism.” On April 24th, Iran’s legislature approved a bill designating the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and all of its forces as “terrorist.” Any military and non-military assistance to CENTCOM will be considered a terrorist act. Furthermore, the bill calls for the Iranian government to take action against governments that back the US designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
Both countries’ labeling of one another’s governments as terrorist organizations is primarily a symbolic act. Snam Vakil, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, explained that the effect on Iran’s economy is “expected to be minimal because the IRGC is heavily sanctioned, and international companies have to be incredibly cautious engaging in business in Iran.”
However, Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that an FTO designation “enhances Washington’s ability to punish those who provide material support to the IRGC…Banks, businesses, and other financial institutions will have to tread even more carefully if they continue to transact with Iran.” It is unclear whether the terrorist designation will have a significant impact on the Iranian economy. Iran’s appointment of hardliner Salami to the IRGC, and the retaliatory designation of CENTCOM as a terrorist organization indicates that Iran will continue to push back against the US’s efforts to isolate Iran and further slow down their economy.