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20 May 2024

The shocking death of Iran’s president

Ebrahim Raisi was the ultimate regime insider and his death has thrown the country into turmoil.

By Wolfgang Münchau

After the death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a helicopter crash on 19 May, what will happen next?

Raisi was a loyalist to Ali Khamenei, Iran‘s supreme leader. He was the ultimate regime insider and a prospective successor to Khamenei. The Iranian constitution mandates early elections within 50 days after a president dies. Any possible contender in these snap elections will need the blessings from Khamenei, while the conservatives are likely to defend their grip on power.

This interim means two months where Iran’s focus will be on internal affairs, rather than a next round of attacks on Israel. But what after the elections? If those snap elections produce another conservative president, this will not change Iran’s geopolitical position. Ties with Russia and other allies are likely to deepen, while their battle against Israel will continue. The helicopter accident could even be instrumentalised to whip up anti-Israeli support. Bad weather conditions and old helicopters are mainly held responsible for the crash. But already there are voices out there, like those of the conservative commentator Foad Izadi on the news channel Irinn, who suggested that foul play by Israel cannot be ruled out.

Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, may meet his own moment of truth in Israel after Benny Gantz and Yoav Gallant pressed him publicly to present a post-conflict plan for Gaza. Gantz issued a six-point plan that includes an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, and gave Netanyahu an ultimatum on 9 June to present a credible exit plan. If Netanyahu does not, Gantz would pull out with his party, causing the coalition to collapse. Netanyahu himself played down its significance. It is indeed not clear that Gantz will follow through with his threat in June. What it did provoke was a response from the far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who laid out his conditions for the IDF to take complete control over Rafah and establish permanent control over the so-called Philadelphi Corridor along the border with Egypt. He also advocates a military takeover of southern Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw from the border. This would be a military campaign on steroids, in complete denial of US concerns.

For the military, the lack of an exit strategy is a formidable challenge. No exit strategy means the military is to fill the void including new operations in areas that were already been cleared by the military before. Something will have to give, and Netanyahu will eventually have to decide.

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This piece originally ran on Eurointelligence.

[See also: The EU’s fear-based foreign policy]

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