Raisi's death: Iran in the balance or unchanged political framework? The succession node


By John

Despite major changes looming in Iran, “the fundamental policies of the Islamic Republic are expected to remain unchanged because the Iranian president and foreign minister operate within the framework established by the Supreme Leader, who holds the ultimate authority on state matters.” This is supported by Shahin Modarres, director of the Iran Desk of the ITSS study center in Verona. The accentuated centralization of power in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the consequence – he explains – “that even in the face of changes in leadership, the fundamental directives of the Islamic Republic will probably persist”. Modarres recalls how the supreme leader exercises broad power over all branches of government, including the executive, legislative and judiciary: «this ensures that key policies and strategic decisions are aligned with his vision and directives . As a result, any changes in the presidency or other high-ranking positions typically have little impact on the overall direction of the country.”

The other essential pillar for the stability of Iranian political power is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is another pillar of the Iranian political system which – continues the scholar – “operates under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader, further consolidating the continuity of the regime's fundamental policies regardless of changes in other government roles”.
Another key figure of the regime, possibly on the rise, according to Modarres, could be that of Mohammad Mokhber, who controls important economic foundations, such as the Foundation of the Ruling Order of Imam Khomeini, the largest Iranian foundation, and plays a role crucial in maintaining regime continuity by ensuring that the ruling elite remains cohesive. «The current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is elderly and has health problems, which raises the possibility of a quick succession which could see – in his opinion – the powerful Mohammad Mokhber ally himself with Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the Supreme Leader, in the event of succession: “an alliance between Mokhber and Mojtaba Khamenei could further strengthen the continuity of current policies”, observes Modarres.

In a message to the nation, meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei assured the Iranians, but above all their internal and foreign enemies, starting with Israel, that there will be no power vacuum. The elections of the new president have in fact already been scheduled within two months. Elected at the top of the Islamic Republic in 2021, the 63-year-old ultra-conservative Raisi had taken the reins of a country in the grip of a profound social crisis and an economy severely tested by American and European sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear program. Dauphin of the Supreme Leader and in pole position for the succession, Raisi had proven to be an intransigent enemy of Israel and the United States, reaching the highest level of conflict with the Jewish State, culminating with the first Iranian attack conducted on Israeli territory, in the background of the war in Gaza.

With his disappearance, despite Khamenei's reassurances on the stability of the system, however, a phase of turbulence begins which could affect the already very fragile balances of the Middle East. It is the same chaotic methods of Raisi's disappearance, a reflection of Iran's technological and organizational backwardness, that confirm the risks and uncertainties of an internal power struggle and, within the Middle East, of a further accentuation of direct involvement of Iran in the terrorist strategy of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis.