AA Edit | Will Iran see any changes after Raisi dies in a crash?

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Tragic crash claims the life of President Raisi and other officials, raising questions about aviation safety under US sanctions

Iranians gather at Valiasr Square in central Tehran to mourn the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and seven others in a helicopter crash the previous day, on May 20, 2024. Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead on May 20 after search and rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a fog-shrouded mountain region, sparking mourning in the Islamic republic. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

The tragic demise of President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran in a helicopter crash is a dire reminder of the hazards of travelling in one of aviation’s most vulnerable flying machines. To do so in bad weather in a mountainous region in an old US Bell helicopter that may not have had the full benefit of servicing and parts due to US sanctions on Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was to invite disaster.

A constructive trip to northern Iran to inaugurate a dam that would serve both Iran and northern neighbour Azerbaijan proved disastrous for the occupants of just one of a fleet of helicopters.

Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards were also on board the chopper with a seating capacity of 15 passengers.

The most prominent loss was that of a head of state who was seen as a protégé of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his most likely successor from within the Shia theocracy that has ruled the country with an iron grip for decades.

The first vice-president Mohammad Mokhber has succeeded Raisi till the next presidential election, but the question is whether anything will change for the people in a country that has witnessed the most brutal crackdowns in history of anyone opposed to the rulers and the theocrats, including filmmakers, artists, entertainers and women who have even been killed for not wearing the veil to cover their faces.

Raisi was one of the hardliners who was steering Iran through a difficult phase that was also a time of economic problems even as the international geopolitical scene is fraught with wars being fought by Iran’s friends like Russia and a sworn enemy like Israel.  Under him, Iran has spent years funding armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories to take pot shots with missiles and drones at not only targets in countries in the region but also international shipping.

Raisi’s latest contribution to the prevailing conflicted global situation was to launch hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel last month, avowedly in response to an airstrike on a compound of the Iranian consulate in Syria that killed two generals and several officers of the feared elite Revolutionary Guards. But later events saw Raisi himself tamping down tensions as Israel struck back, aiming at a military radar installation in Iran.

To deter attacks while projecting its power as an aspirational nuclear power, Iran was kept on an active path of a game of friends and foes by the likes of Raisi, with the support of the Ayatollah. Given its historically frosty relations, the needle of suspicion was naturally enough pointed at Israel too though there was nothing, on the face of it, to suggest this was nothing but an ill-fated helicopter flight in poor conditions of light and sight.

There is nothing to suggest that anybody except a hardliner will ultimately take Raisi’s place even as Iran keeps cultivating strategic ties with China and Russia while being friends with India and others in trade. What it has lost is a figure of absolute authority who embodied everything that Iran was aiming at since the revolution 45 years ago that displaced the Shah of Iran.