Military & Aerospace

What are the possible consequences of Ebrahim Raisi's death?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 May , 2024

Following death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and several top officials of the country, while Western analysts are saying death of a consummate loyalist Raisi will be a severe blow to Iran’s conservative leadership, while an expert on country’s domestic politics and foreign policy said, “I believe concern in Tehran may extend beyond the potential human tragedy of the crash. The change forced by it will have important implications for an Iranian state that is consumed by domestic chaos, and regional and international confrontation”.

During Raisi’s term in office, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels. Tehran also intensified its cooperation with Hamas, while Iran launched a massive drone and missile attacks on Israel.

According to media reports, internally, Iran has been grappling with years of mass protests against its theocratic regime, driven by economic hardships and demands for greater social freedoms, particularly women’s rights. The death of MahsaAmini in 2022, after being detained by the morality police for allegedly not wearing a hijab, sparked nationwide protests and a severe crackdown by security forces. Over 500 people were killed, and more than 22,000 were arrested in the ensuing demonstrations.

As Raisi’s death is finally confirmed by the Iranian authorities – almost after 40 hours, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that country’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would serve as acting president until elections are held. It is highly-anticipated that Mokhber may be chosen by Ali Khamenei to run in the elections, which will take place within 50 days.

Hours after the helicopter crash, a large number of users on ‘X’ (formerly known as Twitter) began circulating posts claiming Iran was using Russian-made helicopters which were purchased decades ago following Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Those users also hinted that the main reason behind the crash were helicopters lacking maintenance work due to financial constraints faced by Tehran because of American sanctions.

Debunking this propaganda, Maria Zakharova, Spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry in a post provided information quoting ‘Grok’ on the crashed helicopter that says, “The Agusta-Bell 212 helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed today in Iran due to adverse weather conditions. State media reported that the crash occurred in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province amidst mountainous terrain and poor weather conditions, including thick fog and heavy rain, which were hampering rescue efforts. This incident was part of a convoy that included three helicopters, with the Bell 212 being one of them”.

Replying to Maria Zakharova’s post, another ‘X’ user wrote: “The helicopter that crashed with President Raisi is reported as a Bell 412. It’s a decent helicopter but has 225 safety incidents since it began flying. Those incidents are below. Compound this with severe limits on replacement parts, not surprising”. 

This user also provided a link to the ‘Aviation Safety Network’ site.

Commenting on the crashed helicopter, a journalist wrote, “Iran’s fleet of helicopters faces significant maintenance challenges due to international sanctions, which make it difficult to obtain necessary parts. Many of the helicopters in use today, including those likely involved in transporting high-ranking officials, predate the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The helicopter involved in President Raisi’s incident resembled a Bell 412, a model that has been in service for several decades and is known for its reliability under normal circumstances.

“However, the combination of aging equipment and maintenance difficulties poses risks. While Iranian authorities have not provided detailed information on the helicopter’s condition, these factors could have contributed to the forced landing”.

Despite such exposés, the actual reason behind this helicopter crash remains a mystery – at least until now. According to an analyst, the forced landing or crash of the helicopter carrying President Raisi highlights the myriad challenges facing Iran, from internal political stability to external geopolitical tensions. While adverse weather conditions are the official explanation, the lack of detailed information and the historical context of similar incidents have fueled speculation and conspiracy theories. As investigations continue, the incident remains a focal point of national and international interest, with potential implications for Iran’s political future and stability.

What are the possible consequences of Ebrahim Raisi’s death?

Commenting on possible consequences of Raisi’s death, Eric Lob, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the Florida International University wrote, “As an expert on Iran’s domestic politics and foreign policy, I believe concern in Tehran may extend beyond the potential human tragedy of the crash. The change forced by it will have important implications for an Iranian state that is consumed by domestic chaos, and regional and international confrontation.

“Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Raisi acted as an assiduous apparatchik of the Islamic Republic and a prominent protégé of Khamenei, who as supreme leader holds ultimate power in the Islamic Republic”.

Professor Lob further wrote:

Before becoming president in 2021, Raisi held various positions inside the judiciary under the purview of the supreme leader. As a prosecutor, and at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, he sat on the committee that sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death.

The executions earned him the nickname the “Butcher of Tehran” and subsequently subjected him to sanctions by the United States and to condemnation by the United Nations and international human rights organizations.

Since 2006, Raisi served on the Assembly of Experts, a body that appoints and supervises the supreme leader.

Domestically, Raisi’s presidency was both the cause and consequence of a legitimacy crisis and societal chaos for the regime.

He controversially won the 2021 presidential election after a high number of candidate disqualifications by the Guardian Council, which vets candidates, and a historically low voter turnout of less than 50 percent.

To appease his conservative base, Raisi and his government reinvigorated the morality police and re-imposed religious restrictions on society. This policy led to the Women, Life, Freedom protests sparked by the death in police custody of MahsaAmini in 2022. The demonstrations proved to be the largest and longest in the Islamic Republic’s near 50-year history. They also resulted in unprecedented state repression, with over 500 protesters killed and hundreds more injured, disappeared and detained. Throughout the protests, Raisi demonstrated his loyalty to the supreme leader and conservative elites by doubling down on restrictions and crackdowns.

Meanwhile, under Raisi, Iran’s economy continued to suffer due to a combination of government mismanagement and corruption, along with US sanctions that have intensified in response to Tehran’s domestic repression and overseas provocations.

Domestic turmoil under Raisi’s presidency was accompanied by shifts in Iran’s regional and international role.

As supreme leader, Khamenei has the final say on foreign policy. But Raisi presided over a state that continued down the path of confrontation toward its adversaries, notably the US and Israel.

And whether out of choice or perceived necessity, Tehran has moved further away from any idea of rapprochement with the West.

On the contrary loyalist hold the West to being swayed by Iranian dissidents living in the Western countries. According to one speaker interviewed stated that Raisi was very popular with the lower strata of the population and his popularity will be apparent during his funeral.

According to Professor Eric Lob, “Ebrahim Raisi’s death is a severe blow to Iran’s conservative leadership”. He added, “Tehran will continue to circle the wagons, given the internal and external pressure they face”.

Meanwhile, days after Iran’s massive missile and drone attacks on Israel, Amit Halevi, a member of Israeli Knesset told Indian magazine The Organiser, “Israel will not accept this missile shooting. There will be a painful response”.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.

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