Who Will Replace Qassem Soleimani? Esmail Ghaani Appointed Hours After U.S. Drone Strike

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani as the new commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, successor to assassinated General Qassem Soleimani.

According to Iran's state funded Press TV news agency, Ghaani was appointed to the role on Friday just hours after Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. Ghaani was previously Soleimani's deputy commander.

Ghaani is the clear continuity choice and has served as Soleimani's deputy since 1997. Like Soleimani, Ghaani also served in the Iran-Iraq War that ran through much of the 1980s.

His rapid appointment and background indicated that the Quds Force would maintain the strategy that made Soleimani a U.S. target.

In a statement carried by Reuters, Khamenei confirmed the interpretation. He said the Quds Force's program "will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor."

Khamenei also described Ghaani as "one of the most distinguished Revolutionary Guard commanders," according to Radio Farda.

Radio Farda noted that Ghaani is known for his vociferous criticism of Israel, and became one of the most influential Iranian figures in Syria, where Tehran is backing President Bashar al-Assad.

In the past, Ghaani has warned President Donald Trump against conflict with Iran. "We are not a war-mongering country. But any military action against Iran will be regretted," he said in 2017.

"Trump's threats against Iran will damage America," Ghaani added. "We have buried many…like Trump and know how to fight against America."

Iranian leaders have reacted to Soleimani's assassination with fury, vowing revenge. Khamenei said warned that "harsh retaliation" awaited the U.S.

President Hassan Rouhani condemned the strike and said it would "make Iran more decisive to resist America's expansionism and to defend our Islamic values." He also suggested that "Iran and other freedom-seeking countries in the region will take his revenge."

Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif lamented the "brutality and stupidity of American terrorist forces in assassinating Commander Soleimani." He also warned that the killing "will undoubtedly make the tree of resistance in the region and the world more prosperous."

In Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said that attack was a "massive breach of sovereignty" that threatened the outbreak of a devastating war. Mahdi also said the strike was a breach of the conditions under which American forces remain in the country.

Qassem Soleimani, Esmail Ghaani, Iran, Assassination, Iran
Protesters are pictured holding posters of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in the Kashmiri town of Magam, India, on January 3, 2020. TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty