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Raisi’s death unlikely to change Iran foreign policy: analysts

Iran lawmakers back switch to Friday-Saturday weekend
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The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash could lead to a period of political instability but is unlikely to change Iran’s foreign policy or its role in the Middle East, analysts said on Monday.

The hardline cleric was considered a favourite to succeed supreme leader Ali Khamenei, 85, who has ultimate authority in Iran, and Raisi’s death will pose a challenge to the country’s authorities in ensuring the stability of the political system.

But analysts are betting on the continuity of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy which is the domain of Ayatollah Khamenei and the secretive Supreme National Security Council.

“A successor may emerge who is as conservative and loyal to the system as Raisi was,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran specialist at the International Crisis Group.

“On foreign policy, the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will continue to dominate strategic decisions”, he said on social media site X, anticipating “more continuity than change”.

Farid Vahid, an Iran expert at the Fondation Jean-Jaures, said that “Raisi was absolutely in lockstep with the Guard Corps”, which “has left a lot of room and freedom for the Guards in the region”.

With Raisi, “decision-making was very fluid because he was completely subservient to the leader”, Vahid told AFP.

“The question for the Iranian conservatives is to find someone who will be elected… and who will not cause them too many problems.”

Iran is scheduled to hold presidential elections within 50 days to replace Raisi, with vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, to assume interim duties.

– ‘Status quo’ –

Raisi’s death comes at a time tensions are soaring between the Islamic republic and Israel following the start of the war in Gaza after Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7.

Those tensions peaked in mid-April, when Iran carried out an unprecedented attack against Israel, unleashing 350 drones and missiles, most of which were intercepted with the help of the United States and other allied countries.

Tehran also supports the so-called Axis of Resistance against Israel — a network of armed groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

“It will be (the) status quo,” Jason Brodsky, an expert at the Middle East Institute, said of Iran’s relations with these groups.

“The IRGC reports to the supreme leader and liaises with Hezbollah, the Huthis, Hamas and the militias across the region. The modus operandi and the grand strategy of the Islamic republic will remain the same,” he told the BBC.

“The strategic decision maker in the system is the supreme leader, the president is an implementer.”

Iran denies it wants to acquire nuclear weapons, but it is no longer complying with its commitments under the 2015 deal with world powers which limited its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The pact, known by the acronym JCPOA, fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018 which led to the reimposition of crushing sanctions on Iran.

– ‘A few nuances’ –

On Monday, Iran’s long-time nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri was named acting foreign minister to replace the top diplomat Hossein Amir-Abdolahian, who was also killed in the helicopter crash.

“The Iranian foreign ministry already has a new head and the same priority: negotiations on the nuclear programme”, Hasni Abidi, director of the Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World in Geneva, said on X.

Brodsky said that “Iran’s nuclear program and the decision-making surrounding it will remain unchanged because at the end of the day it’s the supreme leader and the Supreme National Security Council which are overseeing the nuclear file”.

The ultraconservative Raisi, 63, had been in office since 2021, during a time that has seen Iran rocked by mass protests and an economic crisis deepened by sweeping US sanctions.

Abidi said that the search for the next supreme leader — and not the death of the Iranian president — would be a game changer.

“Raisi was the future leader. He had the support of all the elements of the system”, he said.

Vahid said there would only ever be radical change in Iran’s foreign policy towards Israel or the United States or to its nuclear programme if there was “a change of the regime”.

“The death of Raisi may bring a few nuances, a few differences,” he said, but no major change should be expected “as long as the leader is alive and the Guards are there”.

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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