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Iranian President’s Death: Geopolitical Impact and Regional Fallout

Posted By May 20, 2024 No Comments

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The unexpected death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has sent shockwaves through the political corridors of Tehran and beyond. This event introduces immediate political instability within Iran and carries significant geopolitical implications for the Middle East and the broader international community.

Immediate Political Instability in Iran

The sudden loss of a sitting president can create a vacuum of power, leading to a period of political instability. In Iran, where the political landscape is already characterized by factionalism and a delicate balance of power, the death of President Raisi could exacerbate existing tensions. Raisi, a conservative hardliner, played a critical role in navigating the complexities of Iran’s political factions, balancing the interests of hardliners and more moderate reformists. His death could trigger a power struggle among these groups, potentially destabilizing the government​.

The Iranian constitution mandates that the first vice president, currently Mohammad Mokhber, assume the presidency temporarily until new elections are held. This interim period, however, is fraught with uncertainty. Mokhber, who lacks the political clout and public support of Raisi, may struggle to assert control, leading to a potentially volatile political environment. The upcoming elections, scheduled to be held within fifty days, will be a critical juncture for Iran, as various factions vie for power​.

Impact on Regional Geopolitics

  1. Iran-Saudi Relations: One of the most significant regional impacts of Raisi’s death is on Iran’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the two countries have taken cautious steps towards rapprochement, culminating in the restoration of diplomatic relations in 2023. However, this delicate détente could be jeopardized by Raisi’s death. A more hardline successor may adopt a less conciliatory approach towards Riyadh, potentially reigniting hostilities and destabilizing the Gulf region​.
  2. Proxy Conflicts: Iran’s influence in regional conflicts, particularly through its support of proxy groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, is another area likely to be affected. Raisi’s death could either embolden these groups, perceiving a weakened Tehran, or diminish Iran’s support if internal chaos consumes the government’s attention. This shift could alter the dynamics of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, with potential ramifications for regional security and stability​.
  3. Relations with Israel: Iran’s antagonistic relationship with Israel is a cornerstone of its regional policy. Raisi’s administration maintained a hardline stance against Israel, continuing Iran’s support for groups opposed to Israeli interests. The death of Raisi could lead to shifts in this policy, depending on the stance of his successor. A more moderate president might seek to de-escalate tensions, while a hardliner could intensify confrontations, further destabilizing the region​.

International Relations and Nuclear Negotiations

President Raisi’s tenure was marked by a particularly strained relationship with the United States and the European Union, especially concerning Iran’s nuclear program. The JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, has been a contentious issue, with negotiations stalled under Raisi’s administration. His death opens up the possibility for a reset in these negotiations, depending on the political leanings of his successor​.

  1. Potential for Diplomatic Renewal: If a more moderate or reformist candidate emerges victorious in the upcoming elections, there could be renewed diplomatic efforts to revive the JCPOA. Such a development would be welcomed by the international community, which has been seeking ways to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions while lifting crippling economic sanctions. A successful negotiation could lead to improved relations between Iran and Western countries, stabilizing the region and providing economic relief to Iran​.
  2. Risk of Escalation: Conversely, if a hardliner takes office, the prospects for reviving the JCPOA could diminish further. A more confrontational stance towards the West could lead to increased tensions, with potential military escalations. The international community, particularly the United States and Israel, may respond with stricter sanctions or even military actions to prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear program. This scenario would have far-reaching implications for regional and global security​.

Economic and Energy Market Implications

Iran is a significant player in the global energy market, particularly in oil and natural gas. Political instability in Tehran can lead to fluctuations in global oil prices, affecting economies worldwide. Moreover, international sanctions, already a significant issue for Iran’s economy, could become even more stringent if the political transition results in increased hostility towards the West​.

  1. Impact on Oil Prices: The uncertainty surrounding Iran’s political future could lead to volatility in global oil markets. Any potential disruption in Iran’s oil production or exports, either due to internal chaos or increased sanctions, could cause a spike in oil prices. This would have a cascading effect on the global economy, particularly for countries heavily reliant on oil imports​.
  2. Economic Sanctions: The nature of Iran’s next president will significantly influence the international community’s approach to sanctions. A hardliner could provoke stricter sanctions from the West, further crippling Iran’s already struggling economy. Conversely, a more moderate leader might seek to ease tensions and negotiate the lifting of some sanctions, providing much-needed economic relief and stabilizing the global energy market​.

Raisi’s Role as Khamenei’s Likely Successor

Ebrahim Raisi was not just the President of Iran; he was widely considered a leading candidate to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His death has significantly altered the dynamics of this anticipated succession, creating uncertainty and potential power struggles within Iran’s political elite.

Raisi’s prominence in the political landscape stemmed from his strong ties to the conservative faction and his perceived loyalty to Khamenei. Raisi was one of three key figures reportedly appointed by Khamenei to form a committee responsible for selecting the next Supreme Leader. This committee’s composition underscored Khamenei’s trust in Raisi and his role in shaping the future leadership of the Islamic Republic​.

With Raisi’s death, the immediate question arises: who will fill this critical void? The process of selecting Khamenei’s successor is highly sensitive and complex, involving the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body of Islamic jurists responsible for appointing and overseeing the Supreme Leader. The absence of a clear frontrunner like Raisi could lead to heightened competition and infighting among different factions within the Assembly and the broader political establishment.

Potential Successors and Power Struggles

Several names have been floated as potential successors to Khamenei, including Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader’s son, who has been involved in behind-the-scenes politics for years. However, Mojtaba’s candidacy is controversial and could face significant opposition from both within the clerical establishment and the broader public.

Other potential candidates include senior clerics such as Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami and Qom’s Friday prayer leader Hashem Hosseini Bushehri. These figures represent different factions within the conservative establishment, and their candidacies could lead to further factionalism and power struggles​.

The uncertainty surrounding the succession could also embolden reformist and moderate factions within Iran. Figures like former President Hassan Rouhani, despite facing significant obstacles, might see an opportunity to influence the selection process or even position themselves as compromise candidates capable of bridging the deep divides within Iran’s political landscape​.

The Decisive Role of the Supreme Leader

In the context of Iran’s political structure, the Supreme Leader holds the highest authority, overseeing the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the military, and the media. This position, currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ensures that the Supreme Leader has a decisive role in shaping Iran’s political, social, and economic policies.

Following the death of President Raisi, the role of the Supreme Leader becomes even more pivotal. Khamenei’s influence extends to the appointment of key officials and the direction of both domestic and foreign policies. With Raisi considered a potential successor to Khamenei, his unexpected death introduces uncertainty in the succession plan, potentially leading to increased factionalism within the regime. The Supreme Leader will need to navigate this carefully to maintain stability and prevent power struggles that could destabilize the country.

The Growing Role of the IRGC

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has significantly expanded its influence in Iran’s political, economic, and military spheres. Originally established to protect the Islamic Revolution, the IRGC has grown into a powerful entity with its own army, navy, and air force, as well as intelligence capabilities. The IRGC’s Quds Force, responsible for extraterritorial operations, plays an important role in extending Iran’s influence across the Middle East.

Following the death of President Raisi, the IRGC’s role is likely to grow even further. With many key government positions already occupied by former IRGC officers, the organization is well-positioned to consolidate power. The IRGC’s economic interests, including its vast network of businesses in various sectors, will also likely expand, reinforcing its influence over Iran’s economy and politics. This could lead to a more militarized approach to governance and foreign policy, especially in the absence of a clear presidential successor who might balance the IRGC’s power.

Potential Succession Scenarios

The death of Raisi leaves a vacuum that various factions within Iran’s political landscape will seek to fill. The IRGC’s increasing prominence suggests that any new leader will need its backing to gain and maintain power. Potential candidates might emerge from within the IRGC itself, ensuring the continuation of its influence.

The Supreme Leader, Khamenei, will play a critical role in managing this transition. His decisions will impact the selection of Raisi’s successor and the overall direction of the country. Given the IRGC’s substantial power, any candidate for the presidency will need to navigate the complex relationship between the clerical establishment and the military elite to secure a stable future for Iran.

The coming months will be critical in determining the direction Iran will take. The outcome of the upcoming elections and the approach of the new president will play a significant role in shaping the future of Iran and its interactions with the world. The international community must closely monitor these developments, as their repercussions will be felt across the globe​.