In recent weeks, one Iranian name has been on the lips of Israeli military officials: General Amir Ali Hajizadeh.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force commander has been held personally responsible for Tehran’s growing drone capabilities and its alleged attacks on a number of Israeli-linked ships – most recently the Mercer Street tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

“Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s air force, is behind dozens of terror attacks in the region, employing [unmanned aerial vehicles] UAVs and missiles,” said Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.

Some Israeli security officials, analysts, and observers even believe Hajizadeh to be the “new Qassem Soleimani”, a Revolutionary Guard general shaping Iranian policy and enjoying the ear and trust of Iran’s supreme leader.

Though he is yet to reach the status of Soleimani, who the United States assassinated in a drone strike with the help of Mossad, Hajizadeh is nevertheless growing in stature at home and abroad.

And with Iran and its allies increasingly using drones in its military operations around the Middle East, the general is becoming an ever-more dangerous foe for Iran’s enemies.

Though Hajizadeh was born in Tehran in 1962, his parents originally came from Karaj, a satellite city 50km from the capital.

Like many of the Revolutionary Guard’s top commanders, he enlisted in the nascent “special unit” in 1980 with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. There he is said to have been posted to many fronts during the arduous eight-year conflict and deployed as a sniper.

Though he trained and fought as a sharpshooter, Hajizadeh was also affiliated to the Guard’s artillery division and grew close to General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, known as the godfather of Iran’s missile programme.

A former military commander told Middle East Eye that Moghaddam was personally responsible for elevating Hajizadeh up through the Revolutionary Guard ranks.

“When Moghaddam and 12 other people went on a three-month mission to Damascus in 1984 to be trained by the Syrian army to launch the Scud B missiles Iran had received from Libya, he proposed to the top commanders that Hajizadeh organise the first missile unit – named ‘Hadid’ – before he returned from Syria to command the unit himself.”

From then on, Hajizadeh was a key figure in Iran’s missile programme, as well as playing an important role in the Revolutionary Guard air force that was formed in 1985.

Hajizadeh would have to wait until 2003 to be appointed as the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Air Defence. After assuming the position, he quickly began focusing on the production of air defence missile systems.

“When I [joined the force], I realised that it was hundreds of times more complex than the surface-to-surface missiles, and we felt like it was impossible [to produce air defence systems],” Haijzadeh recalled earlier this year.

According to Hajizadeh, the Russians offered to sell Iran some Buk missile systems, and a few Iranian delegations travelled to Moscow. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instead encouraged the Revolutionary Guard to produce its own missile systems.

“The purchase was cancelled and we came to focus on [producing Iranian-made systems], leading to the production of the 3rd Khordad, Tabas, and Raad native systems,” Hajizadeh said.

In 2009, Khamenei decided to broaden the Guard Air Force’s scope of activities. A space section was bolted on, and its name was changed to the Aerospace Force. This force became responsible for the Islamic Republic’s missile development and use, and Khamenei named Hajizadeh as its commander.

In an interview with local media in 2018, Hajizadeh described presenting Khamenei with plans for missile development.

“He said, ‘what you said is good, but my priority is the missile’s precision,’” Hajizadeh recalled.

“At that time, we were working on the range of our missiles while it faced an [high] error rate. When the supreme leader said that, we tried for three months and reached the desired result, and later we reached the lowest possible error rate.”

Source » middle east eye