Iran: will the death of President Raisi destabilize the regime?

(To Gino Lanzara)

Le agencies already received yesterday, they dispelled doubts about the outcome of the flight accident which saw President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian among the victims.

Coming from Azerbaijan, where Raisi had inaugurated a dam with his Azerbaijani counterpart Alyev, the helicopter was a Bell 412. The vehicle was purchased before the 1979 revolution, and it cannot be ruled out that faulty spare parts and weather conditions prohibitive conditions have contributed to the events by worsening the condition of a vehicle that is no longer fully efficient.

The governor of East Azerbaijan, Malik Rahmati, and the leader of Friday prayers in the city of Tabriz, Mohammad-Ali Al-Hashem, also died in the accident. 

Turkey, UAE, Oman, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, promptly offered their availability for rescue in a particularly impervious, foggy and bad weather area; the EU, upon Iranian request, activated the Copernicus satellite system. Before providing a definitive version, the news was subjected to chaotic relaunches and denials that Raisi was on board a car heading to Tabriz. While prayers continued in the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, with the faithful immortalized by television footage, the Israeli media cited Western sources according to which Raisi would have perished immediately in the crash.

It is relevant to consider Raisi's presence in Azerbaijan for an event that could have also been celebrated at another time, the inauguration of a dam; Moreover, it is known that Tehran perceives the dangers of an existential encirclement which, from the Gulf, outlines cooperation between the USA, Israel, Arab countries, and to the north between Turks and Azeris and, sporadically, Pakistanis. After years of controversy and protests over military exercises often held close to the Azeri and Iranian borders, Tehran and Baku are attempting to resume the threads of an extremely difficult relationship, where the Ayatollahs cannot forget the mutual supplies of crude oil to Tel Aviv and of war equipment evolved towards Baku, in a pan-Turkist perspective typical of Ankara's nationalist baggage which supports Baku which, in turn, is aware of the millions of Azeris residing in Iran. Internal stability therefore remains of particular relevance, also in light of Turkish propaganda capable of breaking the balance with the Azerbaijani community, of which Khamenei himself is a part.

Elected President of the Republic in 2021, the ultra-conservative hawk Raisi has risen to the top of a country in deep social and economic crisis; very loyal to Supreme Guide and candidate to succeed him, he has always been a bitter adversary of Israel and the USA. His participation in the Khomeini revolution and his rise to the top of the Iranian judicial system stand out in his CV.

Since his appointment to the top judiciary in 2019, Raisi has prosecuted corruption cases against government officials and prominent businessmen and expressed support for negotiations of a nuclear deal that, while allowing uranium enrichment to atomic weapons levels, would protect Tehran's interests.

Raisi, at his political debut, imposed with three other Islamic magistrates, the capital punishment for thousands of political opponents, so much so that Ayatollah Montazeri indicated him as one of the members of the "death committee" wanted by Khomeini and responsible for the executions of mujahideen and communists at the end of the conflict with Iraq. His position, according to the constitution, is now held by Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, until the elections are held no later than the next 50 days. For Foreign Affairs, Deputy Minister Bagheri Kani assumes the role on an interim basis.

He is the seventh person to hold that role after the revision of the country's constitution. with the speaker of parliament Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and the head of the judiciary Gholamhossein Mohsein Ejei he will be part of a limited government council. Mokhber administered the Setad, an investment fund linked to Supreme Guide. Sanctioned several times, he has always operated within the Bonyad, charities that are difficult to control but fundamental to the Islamic economy. Not to be overlooked is the role it played in evading Western restrictions on exports of oil, and in supplying Moscow with surface-to-air missiles and drones to be used in the Ukrainian conflict. Considering the fact that Raisi did not possess particular political skills, the belief has often been expressed that it was Mokhber who directed the executive, playing a preponderant role in appointments to departments economic.

Raisi was an uncharismatic figure, but useful as a link between Shiism and Islam Pasdaran. There are many doubts about whether his death could destabilize the system, given that the regime looks at Khamenei in fideistic terms; Soleimani's death, moreover, did not lead to the internal destabilization that was feared or hoped for depending on your point of view. It is however true that even if the regime can survive regardless of individual personalities, it will be necessary to monitor the balance between them over time Pasdaran and individual components of the state, both the force of dissidence and she was jubilant at the prayer gatherings. To prevent the latent onset, the regime could immediately try to find a trigger for what could turn from an accident into an attack, a meaning that would aim to make internal support homogeneous. After all, these are not such far-fetched hypotheses, given the recent and massive launch of drones and missiles towards Israel and considering the violent repression of dissent due to the Mahsa Amini case in 2022.

In short, talk about martyrdom, as the Iranian media are doing, could prelude to an indictment of the West, perhaps attributing the events to the consequences of the sanctions system, although this could lead to blame for the technical shortcomings of the regime.

Politically, Supreme Guide e Pasdaran lose two prominent elements: Raisi was among Khamenei's eligible successors, and Abdollahian was a man very close to Come on Qods. Their replacement will not be easy, given the existing system of censorship and vetoes, with elections that could reawaken popular protests that have already been harshly repressed in the past given that the opposition continues to be left without a credible leader. Even the death of the governor of Azerbaijan and the Imam of Tabriz should not be underestimated, given the regional instability.

Foreign policy could change only as a function of internal protests so violent as to determine a temporary detachment from international relations.

Photo: web