Iran File

The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iran File: Meet the Raisi Administration

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has drawn personnel from the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), economic empire, and Judiciary to form his government. Raisi *submitted his 19-person cabinet proposal to Parliament for confirmation on August 11 and *appointed other senior officials to his administration. This cabinet is filled with hardliners, veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, and former members of the Ahmadinejad administration. These individuals represent many of the political allies that Raisi has cultivated throughout his career and whom he trusts.

Raisi’s picks indicate that his administration will prioritize bolstering Iran’s regional network and ties, supporting state control of the economy, and repressing dissidents. Raisi’s nominees have extensive experience overseeing and supporting such activities. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ultimately dictates regime behavior and priorities, but senior cabinet officials advise and influence him. Many are ex officio members of key policy bodies, including the *Supreme National Security Council, *Supreme Economic Coordination Council, *Supreme Cyberspace Council, and *Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, all of which report to the supreme leader.

At least seven members of Raisi’s planned cabinet have ties to the IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force, reflecting his desire to prioritize developing Iran’s regional network and ties over engagement with the West. Raisi *articulated this philosophy in his inauguration speech on August 5, in which he promoted a “balanced foreign policy”—one that focuses on regional efforts while reducing dependence on Western sanctions relief. Raisi’s top priority *is improving Iran’s failing economy, and he seeks to leverage his foreign policy toward this larger objective. Raisi’s nominees with ties to the IRGC are:

  • Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Minister-designate Ezzatollah Zarghami;
  • First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber;
  • Foreign Affairs Minister-designate Hossein Amir Abdol Lahian;
  • Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister-designate Bahram Eynollahi;
  • Intelligence and Security Minister-designate Esmail Khatib;
  • Interior Minister-designate Ahmad Vahidi; and
  • Roads and Urban Development Minister-designate Rostam Ghassemi.

Three of these individuals—Foreign Minister-designate Abdol Lahian, Interior Minister-designate Vahidi, and Roads Minister-designate Ghassemi—are close to the Quds Force and its regional activities. Abdol Lahian is a career Iranian diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East. His background sharply contrasts with that of outgoing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has primarily *worked with the US and Europe throughout his career. Abdol Lahian has worked with Hassan Danaei Far and Hassan Kazemi Ghomi, both of whom are Quds Force members, in Iraq and has been viewed as the IRGC’s representative in the Foreign Ministry. He has regularly *met with Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and is the secretary general of the International Conference Supporting Palestinian Intifada. His resume lists positions *including:

  • Parliament speaker special assistant and Parliament international affairs director general (2016–present),
  • Deputy foreign affairs minister for Arab and African affairs (2011–16),
  • Foreign Affairs Ministry Persian Gulf and Middle East director general (2010–11),
  • Iranian ambassador to Bahrain (2007–10),
  • Iranian representative to US-Iran-Iraq talks in Baghdad (2007), and
  • Foreign Affairs Ministry special chief of staff for Iraq (2005 or 2006–07).

Vahidi is a former Quds Force commander and Qassem Soleimani’s predecessor. Vahidi *has been a member of the IRGC’s defense and intelligence apparatus for decades. His experience is primarily in defense doctrine and policy, extraterritorial activities, and defense industries, including ballistic missile development. Vahidi *has held the following posts:

  • Supreme National Defense University president (2016–present),
  • Strategic Defense Research Center director (2013–16),
  • Defense and armed forces logistics minister (2009–13),
  • Deputy defense and armed forces logistics minister (2005—09),
  • IRGC Quds Force commander (1988–98), and
  • IRGC deputy intelligence chief (1984 or 1985–88).

Ghassemi is a Quds Force officer who is deeply tied to the IRGC’s economic network and business dealings in the region. He has spearheaded efforts to export Iranian oil in violation of US sanctions in recent years. He reportedly *planned to send Iranian crude to Syria in July 2021 to smuggle into Lebanon. Ghassemi’s experience *includes:

  • IRGC Quds Force economic deputy (present; exact dates unknown),
  • Iran-Syria Economic Relations Development Committee chairman (present; exact dates unknown),
  • Oil, gas, and petrochemicals minister (2011–13), and
  • Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters commander (2007–11).

Raisi nominated nine individuals tied to the regime’s economic empire for his cabinet, which may further consolidate the state’s dominance of the economy. These nominees are deeply connected to the regime’s bonyads, state-run business conglomerates that control large portions of the Iranian economy and hold regime officials’ assets. Raisi wants to *enhance Iran’s domestic production capacities and is leveraging a group of Iranian businessmen and economic officials to this end. These picks suggest that Raisi may form a cabinet antithetical to former President Hassan Rouhani’s economic philosophy, which *supported privatization. These individuals *are:

  • Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare Minister-designate Hojjatollah Abdol Maleki;
  • Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister-designate Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili;
  • Education Minister-designate Hossein Baghgoli;
  • First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber;
  • Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister-designate Reza Fatemi Amin;
  • Intelligence and Security Minister-designate Esmail Khatib;
  • Oil, Gas, and Petrochemicals Minister-designate Javad Oji;
  • Planning and Budget Organization Director Masoud Mir Kazemi; and
  • Roads and Urban Development Minister-designate Rostam Ghassemi.

Raisi is bringing a group of his former assistants, advisers, and deputies with him to the presidency. Raisi *led a prominent bonyad, Astan Quds Razavi (AQR), from 2016 to 2019 and was later *Judiciary chief from 2019 to 2021. Five of Raisi’s picks previously *worked at AQR or its subsidiaries, and six at the Judiciary. These individuals comprise a cadre of officials whom Raisi trusts and may reflect how Raisi derives political support from the regime’s economic and judicial components.

Raisi seeks political support from Khamenei and the IRGC as well and has tailored his cabinet to preserve their backing for him and his government. Raisi is a top contender to become Iran’s next supreme leader, and he needs support from Khamenei and the IRGC to bolster his prospects. Raisi’s cabinet and the policies it pursues may therefore be viewed as an extension of Khamenei’s and, to a lesser extent, the IRGC’s policy preferences. Moderate and reformist candidates are notably absent from Raisi’s proposed government, highlighting how hardliners—with Khamenei’s and the IRGC’s backing—are asserting their control over the formal government.

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