Iran’s foreign minister has challenged United States President Donald Trump in a tweet, sharing photos from the massive crowds in Tehran mourning an Iranian commander killed by a recent US drone strike.
- Esmail Ghaani has been appointed as the new leader of the elite Quds Force
- Iran’s Supreme Leader said he is “one of the most prominent commanders”
- However, very little is known about Mr Ghaani
Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote, “Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life, @realdonaldtrump?” and urged Mr Trump to distance himself from his advisers who seek confrontation with Iran.
“Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you on our region? And do you still imagine you can break the will of this great nation?”, the tweet read.
@JZarif Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life, @realdonaldtrump ?
The huge processions for General Qassem Soleimani marks the first time Iran has honoured a single man with a multi-city ceremony.
Police said attendees entered into the millions.
The death of Major General Qassem Soleimani was a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.
He was the head of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and has long been seen by Israel and the US as one of the most dangerous and potent figures in the region.
In a rare display of emotion from the typically reserved and measured Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cried openly at the funeral.
Mr Khamenei’s voice cracked under the weight of the moment during a funeral procession unlike any in Iran’s recent history.
The Revolutionary Guard has seen its influence grow ever-stronger both militarily and politically in recent decades.
A key driver of that influence comes from the elite Quds Force, which works across the region with allied groups such as Iraqi militiamen, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, to counter the advanced weaponry wielded by the US and its regional allies.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organisation that answers only to Iran’s supreme leader.
Quds force ‘will be unchanged’: Khamenei
The newly-appointed leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, joined the country’s leaders at the funeral of Mr Soleimani.
Much is still unknown about Mr Ghaani besides that he has stepped out of the shadows to lead the country’s most elite force.
One of his first duties will likely be to oversee whatever retaliation Iran intends to seek for the US airstrike early Friday (local time) which killed his longtime friend Mr Soleimani.
Mr Ghaani will also be responsible for Tehran’s proxies across the Mideast as the Islamic Republic threatens the US with “harsh revenge”.
Mr Khamenei called the new leader “one of the most prominent commanders” in service to Iran, during the announcement of his appointment.
The Quds Force “will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor,” Mr Khamenei said, according to IRNA.
Mr Ghaani has only occasionally come up in both Western or Iranian media, but his personal story broadly mirrors that of Mr Soleimani.
Born on August 8, 1957 in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, Mr Ghaani grew up during the last decade of monarchy.
He joined the Guard a year after the 1979 revolution and like Mr Soleimani, he was first deployed to put down the Kurdish uprising in Iran that followed the shah’s downfall.
He joined the Quds Force shortly after its creation and worked with Mr Soleimani, as well as leading counterintelligence efforts at the Guard.
“We are children of war,” Mr Ghaani once said of his relationship with Mr Soleimani, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
“We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle.”
‘He’ll have little difficulty filling Soleimani’s shoes’
Western analysts believe Mr Soleimani focused on the nations west of Iran, while Mr Ghaani’s remit was those to the east like Afghanistan and Pakistan
However, this remains a speculation as Iranian state media has not elaborated on his time in the Guard.
Afshon Ostovar, the author of a book on the Guard said, “That Qaani survived at such high ranks in the [Guard], and remained [Mr] Soleimani’s deputy for so long, says a lot about the trust both Khamenei and Soleimani had in him.”
“I suspect he’ll have little difficulty filling Soleimani’s shoes when it comes to operations and strategy.”
In 2012, the US Treasury placed sanctions on Mr Ghaani, describing him as having authority over “financial disbursements” to proxies affiliated with the Quds Force.
The sanctions particularly tied Mr Ghaani to an intercepted shipment of weapons seized at a port in 2010 in Nigeria’s most-populous city, Lagos.
Also in 2012, Mr Ghaani drew criticism from the US State Department after reportedly saying, “if the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”
In January 2015, Mr Ghaani indirectly said Iran has sent missiles and weapons to Palestinians to fight Israel.
‘Iran must refrain from further violence’: NATO
As tempers flared in Tehran over Mr Soleimani’s killing, NATO called for a de-escalation of tensions after an urgent meeting of the alliance on Monday (local time) to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
“We are united in condemning Iran’s support of a variety of different terrorist groups,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“At the meeting today, allies called for restraint and de-escalation.
“A new conflict would be in no one’s interest, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.”
Mr Stoltenberg also said the training of troops in Iraq would be temporarily suspended.
“We are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people,” he said, before adding the training could be restarted “when the situation permits”.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no decision had been made to pull Australian troops from Iraq.
There are around 300 Australian Defence Force members and diplomatic personal currently in Iraq, and the Australian embassy in Baghdad remains on lockdown, with all non-essential staff ordered to leave the country.