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A Fog Descends Over Iran

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Photo: The death of President Raisi has triggered a wave of statements from various directions. What will change? Source: FB Ilham Aliyev
Photo: The death of President Raisi has triggered a wave of statements from various directions. What will change? Source: FB Ilham Aliyev

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi dies in a helicopter crash. What will change in Tehran's course? Actually, if any changes occur, they are unlikely to move towards a readiness to negotiate with developed countries that openly fear Iran's missile and nuclear programme, which Moscow strongly supports.


The death of President Raisi has triggered a wave of statements from various directions. Officials from developed countries limited themselves to words of sympathy and little more. Neighbouring countries expressed condolences, emphasising Raisi's significance in establishing Iran as a regional superpower. Some leaders remained silent, while others blamed the US for banning the supply of spare parts for aviation equipment, allegedly causing the crash. This claim appears particularly cynical given that the mass production of Iranian missiles and drones is possible only because they are generously supplied with components from developed countries.

This also applies to those Iranian weapons with which Russia attacks peaceful cities of Ukraine.

There were many rumours surrounding the helicopter. Initially, it was believed that Raisi was flying in a Russian-made machine. However, it turned out that the Iranian president was using not a machine from loyal partners – the Russians – but a Bell 212 helicopter of American origin. Flying in a helicopter made by a company from a country with which Iran has significant conflicts? Why not, it's realpolitik. Let's see if Iranian leaders will switch to Russian or at least European helicopters and planes.


The exact year of manufacture of the helicopter that killed the Iranian president is unknown, but it is known that the last such machine was built in 1998. That is, 26 years ago.


Who After Raisi?

The most important thing to understand about the functions of the 63-year-old Raisi in recent times is that they were more decorative and executive than strategic and managerial. Yes, he was in charge of much of the state's administrative hierarchy in Iran. However, he effectively had no ability to demonstrate his own agency against the backdrop of the 85-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who truly makes the key decisions.


Most experts believe that Raisi's death is very unlikely to affect Iran's ruling system or its policies in general. Almost certainly, the initiative in these areas belongs to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yes, Ebrahim Raisi was considered the main candidate to succeed Ali Khamenei. But Raisi's death is more likely to further strengthen Khamenei's position, as no one will hinder the Supreme Leader from placing his son in the president's seat.


Yes, there are presidential elections ahead. No, it is not worth giving that vote too much importance. This democracy ghost is entirely controlled from above.


On the Table - The Great Chessboard

The initial impression is that Raisi's death will act as a kind of safety valve for an overheated steam boiler. During the civil unrest in 1988, Ebrahim Raisi oversaw the mass executions of opposition members. He did not mellow with time. Iranian society is much more diverse than it appears on local television screens or in the press. Despite a gradual increase in oil exports in recent years, the country has been plagued by economic problems.


Thus, the level of public discontent is very high. The authorities would like to channel this discontent. The dead figure of the "Tehran Butcher" serves as a convenient scapegoat.


But what about the foundations of Tehran's autocracy? The average level of oil exports from Iran in the first quarter of 2024 was 1.56 million barrels per day, significantly higher than the 1.23 million barrels a year ago in the same period, an increase of 26.8%. Meanwhile, revenues increased even more, by 28.6%, according to the FDD.


Interestingly, amid the current gradual easing of oil sanctions imposed on Iran during the Trump administration, there is a concentration of oil sales to China. Currently, China's share in Iran's oil exports fluctuates between 80-90%. In this sense, Tehran is competing with Moscow, whose oil exports are also under relatively mild sanctions.


Access to oil revenues is a key factor fueling Tehran's superpower ambitions. Washington and Brussels are almost helplessly watching as Tehran destabilises markets by supporting the Houthis, who attack tankers transporting oil that competes with Iranian oil. It is Iranian petrodollars that finance Hezbollah, which attacks Israel and beyond. It is also no secret that Iranian petrodollars also are present in Hamas's coffers.


The Iranian missile attack on Israel on 12 April was demonstratively and offensively powerful, though it caused little damage to Israel or the military bases of its partners in neighbouring countries. The reaction to the attack was frankly apologetic – the missiles and drones were shot down, but there were practically no strikes on their launch sites.


Tehran is not only demonstrating military ambitions. Over the past year, there has been a lively rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East. Past mutual grievances and claims, religious disputes, competition within OPEC, and the global oil market are all fading against the backdrop of Beijing's efforts. China is heavily intervening in the affairs of the world's largest oil-producing region, pushing Saudi Arabia, a former close US partner, into a friendship with Iran, which is undeniably an enemy of the US.

Photo: Pentagon: "US had no part to play" in Iran chopper crash. Source: CNN video screenshot



What Will Change?

Nepotism, appointing relatives to high positions, is seen as a shameful affliction in Western democracies, but not in Eastern societies. Personal and unconditional loyalty to the supreme leader, which sustains Eastern autocratic regimes, is not a new phenomenon. Sometimes such loyalty ensures the retention of the highest positions and the country's progress in the chosen direction, although it significantly impacts the overall efficiency of state governance.


Directing Ali Khamenei's son to the presidential seat is neither unknown nor unacceptable for the leaders of Russia, China, or other Asian countries. Leaders in the US and EU will not be surprised by such a development. For them, the ability of the new formal Iranian leaders to negotiate and uphold agreements is more important. However, Tehran has always struggled with this ability and, more specifically, with the willingness to fulfil promises, since the 1980s. One only needs to recall how demonstratively and provocatively Tehran developed its nuclear programme.


According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, new presidential elections must be held no later than early July, so they are already scheduled for 28 June. However, free elections are not on the agenda, no matter how much Western leaders insist on it. Entry filters for candidates are controlled by religious leaders (primarily Ayatollah Khamenei). Therefore, surprises are unlikely. Local propaganda will undoubtedly try to release the steam of discontent, though real reforms are not to be expected.


Similarly, a shift towards a more moderate foreign policy is highly unlikely. Markets indicate as much. Oil reaction? Practically non-existent. Prices have been fluctuating at similar levels since late April. Gold? The prices of this metal have been rising to absolute records since early last week. This is a fairly clear hint.


However, a shift in the foreign policy of countries suffering from terrorist threats to international trade freedom in recent months is possible. Thus, an unfortunate incident for Tehran – yes. A black swan for the autocratic regime – no, it has not come to that yet.



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