September 26, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1716

New IRGC Commander: Asymmetrical Warfare Is Our Strategy for Dealing with Enemy's Considerable Capabilities; We Aspire to Ballistic Missile Superiority

September 26, 2007
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 1716


On September 1, 2007, in a surprise move, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Mohammad Ali Aziz Jafari as top commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).[1] His predecessor, Yahya Rahim Safavi, who had held the position for a decade, is now special military advisor to Khamenei. (To view the MEMRITV webpage on Yahya Rahim Safavi, visit:

This reshuffle in the top command of the IRGC – the primary military mainstay of the Iranian regime – may be the result of a decision by Khamenei to remove Safavi from his post, perhaps in response to the growing threat of a military attack against Iran. Alternatively, the change may have been prompted by Safavi himself.

Iranian journalist Ali Nourizadeh, who resides in the West, reported, citing an Iranian source, that Khamenei held his regular weekly meeting with Safavi two days before the change was announced but that he did not inform him of the decision to remove him from his post at that time. Sources in Tehran reported that the decision to replace Safavi had been made some time ago, but that its implementation had been postponed.[2] At the same time, a September 3, 2007 article in the reformist daily Rooz suggested that the reshuffle could have been prompted by threats of resignation by Safavi. According to Rooz, Safavi's dissatisfaction stemmed from, inter alia, intervention by Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad-Baqer Zolqadr, formerly Safavi's deputy in the IRGC, in the running of the corps – intervention which, the paper said, was sanctioned by Khamenei.[3]

New IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Aziz Jafari has extensive military experience and proven organizational skills. He is considered a good tactician and is credited with the development of intelligence warfare strategies. Throughout his military career, he has emphasized "asymmetrical warfare" and developing Iran's ballistic missile capabilities. A Rooz article from September 4, 2007 explained that "asymmetrical warfare" refers to "attacks in enemy territory based on dispersed commando strikes rather than on traditional warfare [between two armies]."

Jafari's Military Experience

In the late 1970s, Jafari was arrested and imprisoned for participating in demonstrations and activities against the Shah's regime. He also participated in the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.[4]

During the Iran-Iraq war, Jafari fought on the front, first as a Basij volunteer and, from 1981, as a soldier in the IRGC. He was wounded several times, and gained extensive military experience, eventually becoming one of the corps' most prominent commanders.[5]

Jafari held several senior positions in the IRGC, including head of operations at the joint headquarters and deputy commander of the ground forces. In 1992, he was appointed commander of the ground forces, a position he held for 13 years. One of the tasks he carried out in this capacity was "to study and assess the strengths and weaknesses of America [as reflected] in its attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq."[6] In 2005, he was appointed by Khamenei to head the Strategic Research Center of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence service.[7]

In 1999, Jafari was among the 24 IRGC officers who signed a letter to then-president Mohammed Khatami following the student riots.[8] In the letter, which was seen in reformist circles as a threat to stage a coup, the commanders protested what they characterized as Khatami's feeble reaction to the "student's impudence," and asked him to take stronger steps, saying, "our patience is running out and we do not think we tolerate any further delay in the handling of this issue."[9]

A Rooz article from September 3, 2007 stated that Jafari is not as close to the political centers of power as his predecessor Safavi, and that he focuses on military, rather than political, affairs. However, he is closely associated with Expediency Council Secretary-General and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai.[10]

Strategic Aims

In speeches he has given since his appointment, Jafari has outlined the strategy he means to promote as IRGC commander, reiterating his commitment to developing Iran's ballistic missile capabilities and the asymmetrical warfare capacities of the IRGC:

"The IRGC is closely monitoring the enemy's movements in the region... We discern even their most minor movements... The IRGC's excellent defensive and ballistic [missile] capabilities [constitute] one of our present advantages, and we aim to attain superiority [in this area]... Informed response to threats, developing independent capabilities and preserving Iran's strength – these are among the goals of the IRGC...

"Asymmetrical warfare... is [our] strategy for dealing with the considerable capabilities of the enemy. A prominent example of this kind of warfare was [the tactics employed by Hizbullah during] the Lebanon war in 2006... Since the enemy has considerable technological abilities, and since we are still at a disadvantage in comparison, despite the progress we have made in the area of equipment, [our only] way to confront [the enemy] successfully is to adopt the strategy [of asymmetric warfare] and to employ various methods of this kind."[11] Jafari added that "the Revolutionary Guards [Corps] will invest efforts in strengthening its asymmetrical warfare capabilities, with the aim of successfully confronting the enemies."[12]

On another occasion, Jafari stated: "After September 11, [2001], all [IRGC] forces changed their [mode of] operation, placing emphasis on attaining combat readiness. The first step [towards achieving] this goal was to develop [a strategy] of asymmetrical warfare and to hold maneuvers [in order to practice it]."[13]

Jafari has said in the past that, in the case of a confrontation with the West, Iran will be willing to employ the organizations under its influence. In a January 2005 speech to intelligence commanders from the Basij and IRGC, Jafari – then commander of the ground forces – stated: "In addition to its own capabilities, Iran also has excellent deterrence capabilities outside its [own borders], and if necessary it will utilize them."[14]

[1] IRNA (Iran), September 2, 2007.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 2, 2007. A Rooz report from the same day likewise stated that Safavi seems to have left his post "due to some kind of dismissal."

[3] Rooz (Iran), September 3, 2007.

[4] Rooz (Iran), September 3, 2007; Kayhan (Iran), September 3, 2007.

[5] Rooz (Iran), September 2, 2007.

[6] Rooz (Iran), September 3, 2007.

[7] Sharq (Iran), August 21, 2005; Baztab (Iran), September 1, 2007; Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), September 10, 2007.

[8] The riots, which broke out in the summer of 1999 in response to the closing of the reformist daily Salam, spread to several major cities before they were harshly put down by the regime.

[9] Rooz (Iran), September 2, 2007.

[10] The article further stated that Jafari was one of the 33 officers who expressed their support for Rezai after he was removed from his post as IRGC commander in 1997.

[11] Mehr (Iran), September 3, 2007.

[12] Tehran Times (Iran), September 5, 2007.

[13] Rooz (Iran), September 3, 2007.

[14] Aftab (Iran), January 21, 2005.

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