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  • Lilly Cohen

Iranian President killed in a helicopter accident

Image by SiBr4

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the likely successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed in a helicopter crash on May 20. 

Poor weather conditions are stated to be the sole contributor to the incident. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also killed alongside six other passengers. The Islamic Republic is now left without two crucial political leaders, contributing to disequilibrium on a national and international scale.

Khamenei has since appointed First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as the interim president until a mandatory presidential election occurs within fifty days of the president's death. Mokhber, who shares a close relationship with the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union.

The penultimate registration day for Iranian presidential candidacy saw more than twenty nominations, including influential political figures. Among those filing, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Eshaq Jahangiri are likely to compete in the final election phase if the Guardian Council approves. Ghalibaf is a top conservative figure and the parliament speaker, while Jahangiri is a prominent reformist and served as vice president in the Hassan Rouhani government. 

The candidates authorized to compete in the election will likely be limited and promise continuity in Iranian foreign policy. However, they hold various pragmatisms, especially concerning relations with the West, nuclear programs, and ties with China and Russia. Ultimately, as long as Iran is subservient to the Supreme Leader, it is unlikely that the political institutions will be impacted.

Iran will likely continue to crack down on domestic dissent against the regime. Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was killed in September 2022 under Raisi's tenure, catalyzing protests that swept across the nation. The morality police's responses to these protests have instilled fear among protestors, which will likely be reflected in today's protests. 

"Many military agents have been stationed in the streets and even small squares since last night,” a Tehran-based reporter said. The police have repeatedly warned that people who are happy about the death of the president will be prosecuted. People were lighting fireworks, listening and dancing to music, and those in traffic kept honking in solidarity with those celebrating.”

Iranian policies are expected to remain the same. Military assistance to Russia will likely continue, including the supply of Shahid drones. The funds and prominent relationship received from Russia bring in significant money to continue Iran's operations. 

Iran's use of proxy groups will likely continue, with the most influential being the Houthis and Hezbollah. These groups are used to attack the interests of Iranian adversaries, creating regional instability. This includes the Houthis hijacking and attacking cargo ships with Iranian-supplied missiles, providing command and control for Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization, and carrying out attacks against U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq. 

State media reports covering a meeting in Tehran with Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement's Deputy Chief Naim Qassem. Major General Hossein Salami, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was also present at the meeting and stated the "continued struggle to be jointly fought from across the region by all resistance groups," according to Al-Monitor

Ultimately, it is Iran's Supreme Leader's responsibility to handle strategic regional policies and relations with Middle Eastern proxy groups.

While it is unlikely for domestic or foreign policies to change, the sudden death of the president could lead to a long-term toll on the country and an increased perception of vulnerability.

The West should have an even more heightened concern about Iranian authority. They will likely shore up any perceived weakness in their armor by a more visible show of force in the region. They may be motivated to act even more carelessly and radically to demonstrate to their adversaries that their strength and influence have not diminished and, Iran should not be considered vulnerable. 

While Raisi’s recent death may appear to provide an opportunity for the West, led by the U.S., to capitalize on a perceived power gap to loosen the grip the hard-liners have on their country and reduce the level of regional influence, it is unlikely their hold on power is in jeopardy.


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