Esmail Ghaani is an Iranian Brigadier General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commander of its Quds Force — a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
During the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988, Ghaani led the 5th Nasr Brigade and 21st Imam Reza Armored Brigade. In 1981, he received his military training in Imam Ali Officers’ Academy in Tehran. Ghaani was appointed Deputy Commander of the Quds Force in 1997 by IRGC Chief Commander Rahim Safavi, along with Qasem Soleimani as Commander. As Deputy, Ghaani oversaw financial disbursements to paramilitary groups including Hezbollah and an arms shipment intended for The Gambia intercepted in Nigeria in October 2010.
On 27 March 2012, Qaani was added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) list by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), freezing his assets and prohibiting transactions with U.S. entities.
Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei appointed GHaani as Commander of the Quds Force on 3 January 2020 after General Qasem Soleimani was killed by a targeted U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport. Reactions to his appointment were mixed. Khamenei described him as “one of the most prominent military commanders during the Sacred Defense”. Iranian expatriate and political expert, Dr. Karim Abdian Bani Saeed, expressed the view that the appointment of the subject was hasty and that Ghaani‘s expertise falls short of that of the assassinated commander. However, noted that despite his relatively unknown figure, GHaani is a veteran with decades of overseas military experience, and signaled that his appointment is unlikely either to reduce the Quds Force influence in the Iranian foreign policy, nor to change the Iranian influence in the region.
On 25 May 2012, two villages in the Houla region of Syria were attacked, resulting in the deaths of 108 people, including 49 children. United Nations investigators concluded that victims had been killed in “two bouts of summary executions” by pro-Assad Shabiha. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland asserted on 29 May that Ghaani alleged in an interview two days earlier that the Quds force helped train Shabiha responsible for the Houla attack. On 27 May, Ghaani had given an interview to Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) stating, “Thanks to Iran’s presence in Syria– physically and non-physically– big massacres were prevented…if the Islamic republic had not been present in Syria, the massacre of its people would have been multiplied.” The interview was deleted from ISNA’s site within hours, but copies remained on other news outlets.
Prior to his appointment as Quds Force commander, Ghaani was most famous for recruiting the Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Zainebiyoun Shia fighters operating in Syria.