Future of Iran “Without Raisi”

(Dr Shujaat Ali Quadri)

Sudden and shocking demise of Iranian President Ehrahim Raisi along with Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian and other notables spells out watersheds in the history of Islamic Republic. It is a moment that may break (which its enemies desire) or steady an already deeply entrenched clerical set-up (which seems a natural fallout).

Meanwhile for countries like India, who stood behind Tehran in every hour of crisis and are now even partners in many key connectivity and energy projects, this is a moment of showing more solidarity and New Delhi has duly done it.

The rescue of Raisi’s crashed chopper speaks volumes how present and future Iranian government seeks to take its international relations forward. The chopper was lost in East Azerbaijan. Dense fog impeded search and rescue operations for hours before the crash site was found. The fog was so thick that it forced the Iranians to call on the support of European Union satellites to help locate the helicopter.

Later, the Iranian Red Crescent Society announced that they had found the location of the wreckage of President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter after it was detected by a Turkish Akinci unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Turkish Bayraktar Akinci unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) identified a source of heat early Monday suspected to be the wreckage of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and shared its coordinates with Iranian authorities.

Türkiye had sent a night vision search and rescue helicopter and 32 rescuers following a request from Iran.

Some other neighbourly states had also offered similar assistance to Iran. It clearly indicates that Iran is not averse to extending or accepting requests from neighbors and adversaries from Europe in times of national crisis and its relations will be pivoted around pragmatism.

Blow to Hardliners?

It was more than evident that President Ebrahim Raisi was being groomed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to be his successor. He had served in every key administrative and institutional position.

Raisi moved Iran’s domestic politics and social policy in a more conservative direction and pushed the country further into the role of clear US antagonist in the region after his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani — who defeated him in the 2017 presidential election — first sought a detente with the West over Iran’s nuclear program before stepping up proxy attacks.

Raisi’s tenure saw Iran speed up uranium enrichment and slow down negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after the United States exited the deal in 2018, three years before he came into office.

Iran under Raisi also supported Russia in its war against Ukraine with extensive exports of Shahed suicide drones and artillery; increased attacks by regional proxy militias against the United States and Israel after Hamas’s October 2023 cross-border attack on Israel; and just a month before his death launched a massive drone and missile attack against Israel.

Experts say that regardless of who replaces Raisi, the strategy he pursued is unlikely to change, having been solidified among the higher echelons of Iran’s political and clerical leadership.

“With Raisi, without Raisi, the regime is quite content with the way the post-Oct. 7 Middle East has been shaking out,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow focused on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “It’s been able to continue its death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy, firing directly against the US and Israel via proxy and then even directly a few times itself with the tit-for-tat you saw in April, and still look like it won the round.”

Some experts believe that there will be a shake-up in the close circle of hardliners around Khamenei and a race may kick in to replace Raisi. But those aware of Iranian politics under Ayatollahs, its discipline and its tenacity to withstand crises know that their clerics-rulers will weather this crisis as well. The next President, another choice of Khamenei, will be in office on June 28.

Martyrdom, A Resolve

Soon after the deaths of Raisi and Abdollahian were confirmed, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that “it will not disrupt the country’s regional and international role.”
In Iran, deaths of revolutionary leaders, even due to natural causes, are celebrated as martyrdom. The deceased are treated as scimitars of resistance. Their murals are raised at several public places throughout the country. Majlis (public gatherings) are organised to laud their lives and sacrifice.

Assassinations and terror strikes on figures linked to the 1979 Iranian Revolution is a continued phenomenon. In 1981, 72 Iranian parliamentarians, including Chief Justice Mohammad Beheshti who was the second highest official after Ayatollah Khomeini at the time, were killed in a bomb blast blamed on the hostile Mujahideen-e-Khalq group. It also later killed President Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar and Colonel Vahid Dastjardi, the head of the country’s police force.

Four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated between 2010 and 2012, and a fifth was wounded in a failed assassination attempt. Tehran accused Israel for such murderous plots.

On June 7, 2017, two simultaneous terrorist attacks were carried out by five terrorists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Iranian Parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, both in Tehran, Iran, were hit, leaving 17 civilians dead and 43 wounded.

As Iran gained upper hand in salvaging BasharAl-Assad regime in Syria, its popular military commander General Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in a drone strike in Baghdad by US forces.

On 27 November 2020, the alleged head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated by a remotely-controlled device. The killing had all the footprints of the Israeli Mossad operation.

Apart from these series of high-profile assassinations, a number of other regular attacks have been taking place inside Iran, resulting in deaths of officials, clerics and leaders linked to the regime.

But evidence suggests that all these setbacks haven’t subdued the Iranian regime’s resolve to carry its Islamist agenda and totalitarian rule. All these fallen heroes were replaced by other revolutionary figures and the country has shown remarkable resilience to withstand outside pressure.

A statement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry summed this to us: “The martyrdom of these prominent figures will undoubtedly cause no disruption in the determination of the country’s diplomatic apparatus to serve national interests and will not impact the Islamic Republic’s ‘positive and constructive’ role in regional and global equations.”

Role in Mideast Region & World

Over the past three years, Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, as Iran’s President and Foreign Minister, played an eternal and crucial role in the history of Iran’s foreign policy. They made great efforts to improve Iran’s status in the international arena, and promote convergence and cordial bonds among regional countries and nations.
Raisi was instrumental in winning Iran seats at prominent global forums such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS, heralding Iran coming out of prolonged isolation at international stage. His regime also entered into a path-breaking détente with arch-rival Saudi Arabia. The accord, a shock to the US, was midwife by China, and it continues to flourish and substantiate in various forms despite Iran being embroiled in multiple crises.

The Raisi regime also built a partnership with Russia by providing Kremlin timely military assistance during the ongoing Ukraine crisis. The bond is so strong that Russian President Vladimir Putin was utterly desperate to send a rescue mission to locate Raisi’s crashed chopper and upon knowing of his demise was distraught. Moscow-Tehran tango will further merge and strengthen a joint front. Beijing has also so much at stake with Iran and will not leave its pal in times of grief.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also exhibited a prompt gesture of solidarity with Iran. He has also touted friendship and growing trade ties with Iran even in election-related interviews. Iran has also not paid any attention to propaganda unleashed by Pakistan and China-linked fake social accounts that attributed deaths of Raisi and others to Indian agents.

The primary challenge for Iran however is how it will shepherd its proxies – Hezboollah, Houthis and other militias – which are on front against the combined might of US and Israel in the region and beyond.

This theatre of war will surely turn murkier. But any signs of change in Iranian stance will be misreading. Rather, the hardliners will stiffen their grip at home and widen their role abroad, with portentousness and pragmatism.

(The Author is the Community Leader and Chairman of the Muslim Students Organization)

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