Iran turns to stabilization project after accident that killed key leaders

Iran sought to demonstrate order and control on Monday by quickly appointing an acting president and foreign minister a day after a helicopter crash that killed both leaders. The leadership change comes at a time of rising tensions in the Middle East and domestic discontent in Iran, where many citizens have called for an end to decades of repressive clerical rule.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced five days of mourning for President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, 60, who died when their helicopter crashed into a mountainous area near the city. Jolfa street, Iran. The men had returned from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan after inaugurating a joint dam project.

Iran’s armed forces said they had established a committee to investigate the crash, which state media said was caused by a “technical error.”

Mr. Raisi, a hardline cleric who came of age during the country’s Islamic revolution, oversaw a deadly crackdown on protesters as head of the judiciary in 2019 and president in 2022. He is widely seen as a possible successor. Khamenei, 85.

On Monday, Khamenei appointed Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, acting president and announced that Mr. Mokhber would organize new presidential elections within 50 days. As a conservative political activist, Mr. Mokhber has a long history of involvement in large business groups with close ties to Mr. Khamenei.

Iran’s Cabinet has appointed Ali Bagheri Kani, Deputy Foreign Minister, as “manager of this Ministry,” state news agency IRNA reported. Mr. Bagheri Kani once held the position Head of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team and entered into an agreement last year that freed imprisoned Americans in exchange for several imprisoned Iranians and eventual access to about $6 billion in Iranian money.

Iranian officials said there would be a public funeral in Tabriz, the closest major city to the crash site, on Tuesday and the bodies would then be returned to Tehran for a state funeral.

Some Iranians mourned Mr. Raisi, including those who held overnight prayers in his hometown, Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. State media also showed images of prayers in Tehran and many other cities.

“Raisi was tireless,” Khamenei said in a statement. “In this very sad incident, the Iranian people have lost a valuable and loyal public servant.”

Mohammad Ali Ahangaran, a prominent religious scholar in Tehran, said in a phone interview that he cried for hours when he heard the news and said that although he had campaigned against Mr. Raisi, the The death of a president is a moment of sadness for him. nation.

Analysts in Iran said that while there was speculation about who might be elected as the next president, there was little question about the overall stability of the country or the government. They pointed out that Khamenei will remain the supreme leader with power over major state policies.

Sasan Karimi, an adjunct professor and foreign policy researcher at Tehran University, said: “The deaths shocked everyone – even rival political factions came together to express their solidarity, as is customary in Iranian culture when someone dies.” telephone interview. “In reality, there will be no real power vacuum in Iran because the cabinet and government are already in place and functioning.”

Despite official calls for mourning, many Iranians welcomed Mr. Raisi’s death, seeing him as one of the key figures in a corrupt regime that oversaw the execution of dissidents. , used brutal violence to suppress and kill protesters and arrest journalists and activists. Many victims are women and young people.

Over the past two years, anger at the government has also grown as Iran’s currency fell to record lows. lack of water has been exacerbated by climate change and the country is worst affected by terrorist attack since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979.

On social media, a widely circulated meme showed a helicopter being brought down by the braided hair of a young woman who did not cover her head. The image is a reference to the “Women, Life, Freedom” protests that began in 2022, protesting laws requiring women to dress modestly and wear headscarves.

“All this humor is a bitter expression of a nation’s pain,” Safa, 55, a doctor in Mashhad, like other Iranians, asked to be named only for fear of government sanctions.

Parisa, 55, who lives in Lahijan, northwest Iran, said she initially felt relieved when she heard the news that the president and foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash.

“But after they were found, I thought this easy death was not enough for them,” she said. “They should have been tried in court and forced to howl like dogs and endure long and painful punishments.”

Many countries, including the US, sent their condolences after the accident.

Iranian state television reported that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a close ally of Iran, spoke to Mr. Mokhber and offered Russia “full capacity” support. Türkiye, Iraq and the European Union said they had also offered help in search and recovery efforts at the crash site.

John F. Kirby, national security spokesman at the White House, said that the United States offered “condolences” but added that “we will continue to hold Iran accountable for any and all acts of disharmony.” their stability in the area, which continues to this day.”

Last month, a long shadow war between Iran and Israel erupted with direct attacks. Two Iranian-backed militias, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon, continue to fight Israeli forces. And the future of Iran’s nuclear program hangs in the balance in the Middle East. The country has produced nuclear fuel so enriched that it is insufficient to produce some bombs.

In Israel, Mr. Raisi is seen as a figurehead who has little influence on foreign policy or Iran’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen.

“From Israel’s perspective, I don’t see any merit in him being replaced by someone else,” said Sima Shine, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, a research group in Tel Aviv. other ultra-conservative Iranians.” “The president is not the most important person in Iran.”

Analysts say Mr. Raisi’s death could improve the prospects for the ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, to succeed him as supreme leader. A modest hardliner, he grew up among Iran’s political and clerical elite and has close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s powerful military force. .

Arash Azizi, a lecturer at Clemson University who focuses on Iran, said a growing number of leaders in Iran’s political establishment have begun publicly endorsing him.

“When people started talking about Mojtaba as a potential successor in 2009, I considered it a cheap rumor,” Dr. Azizi said. “But that’s no longer the case. It is now very clear that he is a remarkable figure. And he was remarkable because he was almost completely invisible to the public eye.”

Other Iran experts rejected the idea that Mojtaba Khamenei could replace his father as supreme leader, saying that would go against the logic of Iran’s system of government. At first, the son taught at Iran’s largest seminary, but he had not achieved high rank in the Shiite clerical hierarchy, a qualification long considered necessary for the role of supreme leader.

Since the Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, Iran has also declared the end of hereditary rule as one of its founding principles.

“If the supreme leader turns into a hereditary regime, what does that mean? That means the system is dead,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iran analyst and editor of Amwaj, a UK-based news agency focusing on Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.

Until a successor is chosen, there will be fierce competition for influence and power, analysts say. And ultimately, they say, the choice will be made from within an opaque system that has only become less transparent in recent years.

“The reality is, no one knows,” Mr. Shabani said. “And that’s crazy – there’s no transparency about a process that affects millions of Iranians.”

Report contributed by Michael Levenson, Michael D. Shear, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Erika Solomon, Patrick Kingsley, Anton Troianovski And Matina Stevis-Gridneff.


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