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20.05.2024.

18:40

This is the "list" of suspects in the death of the Iranian president

Ebrahim Raisi, whose helicopter crashed in northwestern Iran on Sunday, was both Iran's president and a candidate vying to succeed the country's elderly current ruler, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Izvor: Time

This is the "list" of suspects in the death of the Iranian president
Tanjug/AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

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Both political positions carried a heightened level of risk roughly comparable to that of air travel inside Iran, where aviation security, compromised by decades of sanctions and poor maintenance, has claimed the lives of almost as many senior Iranian officials as its shadow war with Israel, which also loomed over Raisi's reported death.

The cause of the accident, which also killed Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, and others is under investigation. But any official revelation will be open to interpretation, like the fireworks that erupted in the streets above Tehran on Sunday night: were they celebrating ahead of the holiday commemorating the birth of Reza, known as the 8th Imam? Or the death of Raisi, the notoriously hard-line president? Doubts abound.

The drop came two months after Iran launched a massive missile and drone attack on Israel, retaliating for an Israeli air strike that killed two senior Iranian generals in Syria on April 1. I

srael's initial response to the unprecedented direct attack on its territory was so muted as to qualify as symbolic: targeting an anti-aircraft battery guarding a nuclear facility.

For those willing to believe that Israel was behind the crash, the site of the incident fuels speculation.

Raisi's helicopter crashed in a mountainous forest near the border with Azerbaijan, which is the least friendly of Iran's neighbors - in part because it maintains relations with Israel and has a history of cooperation with the Mossad.


But the timing was also suspect. The Iranian state said efforts to locate the crash site were hampered by fog, wind and heavy rain, and released footage of rescue teams racing through the fog.

Finally, there is the internal politics of the Islamic Republic, notoriously brutal at the best of times, but even more so given persistent rumors that Khamenei, who has ruled for 35 years, is ill.

"Raisi's death would create a succession crisis in Iran," Karim Sajapour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told TIME on Sunday, as anchors on state television donned black.

"He and Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader's 85-year-old son, are the only rumored candidates for succession. In Iran's conspiratorial political culture, few will believe Raisi's death was accidental. Raisi, 63, thrived in that conspiratorial culture. The name of his political faction, the Association of Fighting Clerics, hints at his place in the authoritarian theocratic system that in 1979 replaced the monarchy that had ruled Iran for most of the 20th century. Raisi made his career as an enforcer, serving as a prosecutor in various provinces and demonstrating his commitment as a hardliner. In the late 1980s, he served on a "death committee" that rights groups say ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners without trial. The executions disrupted the succession plan of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shiite cleric who led the 1979 revolution, after his embittered protégé declared:

"I said I'll follow you anywhere, but I won't follow you to hell."

Instead, the job went to the similarly named Khamenei, with an expeditious promotion to ayatollah. In the decades that followed, Raisi also rose through the ranks, eventually heading the judiciary, which is directly accountable to the Leader.

Raisi, however, had no obvious political following, except for regime loyalists who make up about 20 percent of Iran's 88 million people. His election as president in 2021, amid record low turnout and accusations of rigging, was seen by observers as a signal that "the system," as Iranians call the ruling apparatus, no longer sees electoral functions as a necessary pressure valve for most Iranians and a society that resents the combined rule of hard-line clerics and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

That calculation survived the regime's biggest internal challenge in decades, when women led nationwide protests that lasted months after the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the "morality police."

Regime security forces killed more than 500 protesters and arrested more than 20,000. A year later, Raisi was in New York to visit the United Nations.

Protected by diplomatic immunity from arrest on charges of executions in the 1980s, he used a meeting with American journalists to boast that the "Women, Life, Freedom" uprising, which he blamed on the US and Europe, had failed.

"Last year, during the instability caused by rioters, in just 48 days, over 36,000 lies were produced and propagated and spread in the media," Raisi said.
 

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