Only rarely does Tehran announce a military appointment made by supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. These notices usually come from the Iranian defense minister or the Revolutionary Guards Corps commander. Nonetheless, it was announced on Tuesday, May 29, that “the supreme leader has replaced the commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Headquarters Gen. Farzad Ismail, which is in charge of Iran’s air defenses, and appointed his deputy Brig-Gen. Alireza Sabahi Fard as acting commander.”
This reshuffle, occurring two years before Ismail’s ten-year term was up, came days after reports that a pair of Israeli F-35 stealth planes had entered Iran’s air space, although this was not mentioned in the letter of dismissal.
Not too long ago, the sacked air defense commander was one of the most esteemed generals in Tehran’s ruling circles, with a high public profile as a charismatic commander. Ismail was a pillar of the military establishment underpinning the regime, in charge not only of Iran’s missile unit and conventional air and missile defense weapons systems, but also responsible for air defenses at the secret nuclear sites and enrichment facilities, some of them underground. Under his command too was the fleet of drones based in Iran and outside (mostly in Syria) as well as the national missile program’s development infrastructure.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s sources, the unopposed F-35 flights over Iran’s nuclear sites were the last straw for the supreme leader, after the string of setbacks under the popular general Ismail’s watch. He was getting black marks for Israeli air strikes hitting one Iranian military target in Syria after another, without Iran’s air defenses downing a single enemy aircraft. Ismail’s days were numbered after the Israeli air force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin listed a row of successful attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and displayed a photo of an Israel F-35 stealth plane over Beirut.
The new commander, Brig.-Gen. Fard, 54, was born in the holy city of Qom and is highly experienced after spending 33 years employed in the Iranian air and missile defense establishment in a variety of capacities.