In 2001, then-Defense Minister of Iran Ali Shamkhani decided to run for the presidency.
He launched a longshot bid, having never run for elected office, and faced off against his boss at the time, President Mohammad Khatami.
Shamkhani, a former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and Artesh, or Islamic Republic of Iran Army, naval commander, justified his candidacy by arguing it was time for a “military man” to ascend to the presidency, and that he had the “authority to take action instead of mouthing slogans.”
He lost that race, but that campaign illustrates the intrigue surrounding the decision of another military man and his former deputy, Hossein Dehghan, to run for the presidency exactly twenty years later, in 2021.
Dehghan has two qualities that have fueled his rise and make him an important presidential contender: skill in navigating Iran’s ideological spectrum and credentials spanning Iran’s armed, deep, and elected states.
Who is Hossein Dehghan?
Born in Isfahan in 1957, Dehghan was involved in some of the most consequential episodes in Iran’s fraught relationship with the United States.
He played a role in the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. Dehghan was also the commander of the IRGC forces in Lebanon and Syria in 1983, which coincided with the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. service personnel—a fact the U.S. government highlighted when it sanctioned him in 2019.
Dehghan had been on the U.S. radar in the 1980s. According to testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1985 by Nathan Adams, then an investigative reporter for Reader’s Digest, Dehghan coordinated “personnel, indoctrination, and training” of Hezbollah.
Adams also revealed that Dehghan’s “dual control [was] the Islamic Republic’s embassies in Beirut and Damascus.”
Dehghan therefore likely liaised with Iran’s then-Ambassador to Syria Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who directed attacks against U.S. interests in Lebanon during this timeframe.
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