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Raisi’s Death: Questions, Concerns, Fears, and Conspiracy Theories!

Simon Mohsin

Simon Mohsin

Wed, 22 May 24

The sudden death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has raised many questions, concerns, conspiracies, and fears. Let’s just review what happened, and attempt to make some sense of the plethora of debates, and discourse that has risen since Raisi’s death.

Raisi was traveling by helicopter to his next event site. He had just attended a dam opening ceremony in a region that borders Azerbaijan. There are reports that bad weather that was exacerbated by rain and fog, was the likely cause of the crash. The other casualties included the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of the local province, and head imam of the region’s central mosque. They were onboard the same helicopter. In the incident of the death of the President, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will reportedly assume the presidential duties in the interim. An election will be held within 50 days and a new President will be chosen.

A plethora of analysis and conjecture is already there and more is likely to come forward in the coming days about how the crash took place, who was responsible, what went wrong, and more. However, concrete evidence remains lacking. There are some strong speculations of sabotage, especially with heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. Sabotage seems unlikely for the time being but it is not impossible. The bad weather is a reasonable explanation of the accident. If there was sabotage, then it would be really difficult for the plotters to predict bad weather ahead of time. There are also reports alluding to the vessel the President was flying in. It was a US built helicopter purchased before the 1979 Iranian revolution. Iran has had difficulty purchasing equipment for safety and spare parts for the US sanctions. Similar vessels remain in service across the globe, and it is reportedly a vessel to be used in only visual flight conditions. The fog and rain definitely denied that on the day of the accident. So, it is very odd that the Iranian Government agreed to allow the President and the Foreign Minister to fly in that vessel under the aforementioned weather conditions. Other world leaders would not have been allowed to do so. If this was sabotage, then it also raises grave concerns about the integrity of Iranian intelligence, security, and government. This brings us to the conspiracies that have risen pertinent to the accident.

Research by an Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman reveals that Israel has carried out more than 2,700 assassinations since 1948. Israel's Mossad has been accused of many of these killings. Israel and Mossad maintain a deliberate policy of ambiguity. It neither confirms nor denies its involvement in such incidents. The means of such assassinations range from shooting at point blank range to explosions, with even poisoned toothpastes in between. Thus, the conspiracy theories of Israel having a hand in sabotaging and causing the death of Raisi is not impossible, maybe improbable at best. However, there is the issue of Azerbaijan that makes overlooking this concern as just another conspiracy theory. Azerbaijani President Aliyev met with Israeli President Herzog met in February of this year. They reaffirmed their commitment to the bilateral relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a major oil supplier to Israel. It continues to resist pressure to cut ties with Israel over the Gaza genocide. On the other hand, Iran and Azerbaijan were at the brink of war not so long ago. Just a year ago, situation was about to erupt in a conflict between the two neighbors. Now, the leaders of the two countries stood face to face inaugurating a jointly constructed dam, committing to the unbreakable bond and heartfelt relationship between the two neighbors. And just after the inauguration, the incident happens. Sabotage popping up in people’s minds is not surprising.

Since the crash and going by the ‘expert opinions’ of mainly wester Iranian critiques, the Iranian regime is unlikely to change its internal policy directions that marginalizes the reformist factions within the Iranian political framework; a policy supported and endorsed by the Supreme Leader. This is the reason Raisi was favored by the Ayatollah, who cleared his way to Presidency three years ago despite the fact that his path to Presidency was marred with reportedly thousands of political killings. Iran is faced with internal challenges that have been compounded with corruption. The leading candidates for the next President are exemplars of the same political philosophy that Raisi belonged to. So, it is likely that new President will continue to test the Iranian people’s tolerance for corruption.

Another prominent concern is Iran’s internal political dilemma escalating. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ranks above the president in Iran; as the Supreme Leader title underlines. The current Supreme Leader is 84 years old, and there had been discussions ongoing about his possible successor. Raisi topped the list. Now Iran is facing not only the challenge of finding a successor for the post of President, but also the post of the next Supreme Leader. His death has raised concerns about political conflict and confusion that is likely to be compounded by the domestic challenges Iran is faced with. The US sanctions has battered the country’s economy. Reports claim that public frustration toward the regime is high. Such notions have increased since some anti-regime demonstrations have occurred in Iran in the past that have been suppressed or handled by the regime. With Raisi out of competition, current Supreme Leader'’ son Mojtaba Khamenei’s chances of succeeding his have increased considerably. An important ally of Mojtaba and current parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, now is considered the top contender for the post of President in the election to be held within 50 days.

There are grave questions about whether the foreign policy of Iran would change in the aftermath of this incident. The answer is most likely, a hard no. Iran’s foreign policy is pivoted on the “axis of resistance” philosophy that courts China and Russia. That approach will remain intact as Iran will continue to engage in greater regional dialogue. The death of the foreign minister is a hard blow for Iran’s regional diplomacy. He was an Arabic speaker and had worked hard for years in cultivating relationships with Iran’s neighbors. He had earned a degree of trust. This incident has raised uncertainty that will hinder the rebuilding of trust to some extent. Moreover, Tehran’s acceleration of its nuclear program since the US’ withdrawing from Iran deal has been a significant concern for the west. It is now close to enriching uranium to the levels needed to build nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is also supporting several proxy forces from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen and fighters in Iraq and Syria. These proxies are fighting Israel, in some cases US forces, across the region. The incident is unlikely to change any of Iran’s approach to these issues.

All of this will face extreme uncertainty raising concerns among the west, and the Saudi led anti-Iran axis within the Middle East. Despite the domestic challenges, and international pressures Iran faces, it remains an important player, and formidable force in the region. It can influence the outcome and also the balance of power within the region, and the conflict that mar the region. Raisi’s death has raised so many concerns, fears, and conspiracies that everyone involved needs to recalibrate their approach to the issues dominating the region, especially the Israel genocide in Gaza. Given the uncertainty Iran is faced with now internally, Israel will try to embolden its posture against Iran’s proxies so that it gains an upper hand; a strategy the US is likely to support and assist in. The middle eastern powers averse to Iran’s influence are likely to consolidate their positions in the region, while attempting to weaken Iran’s influence. The death of Raisi, if a natural phenomenon, has really warped the middle eastern equation, at least for the short to mid-term. A common potential culprit of this incident, if result of a sabotage, is the US, which has denied any wrongdoing. And, it seems that they are not involved. It is unlikely that there may be concrete evidences found for sabotage; the likelihood of conspiracies becoming more established conjecture and educated guesses is high. This would heighten tensions in the region and the globe, as threats of nuclear warfare have already been circulating. However, if the incident was a sabotage, and there are concrete evidences found supporting it, then it is world war 3! May the Almighty save us all!

Author: Political and International Affairs Analyst.

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