Tachles with Aviel – What a happy misfortune!

What happened yesterday at the border between Azerbaijan and Iran can be described as a blessing in disguise.

By Aviel Schneider | | Topics: Iran
Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Shutterstock
Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Shutterstock

What drama! The sudden death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran has shocked the Islamic Republic. News of the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter sparked a wave of speculation in the country and across the Middle East, ranging from a malfunction due to poor weather conditions to a targeted assassination attempt with precise timing. “Sometimes you need more luck than sense,” is the saying in the country. “God intervenes and causes misfortune,” the Persian Jew and Iran expert Eliyahu Yossian told me in an interview.

When we received the first reports from Azerbaijan yesterday afternoon about the disappearance of the helicopter, it was initially unclear if we were talking about an emergency landing in the mountains, or a crash. For hours, much remained shrouded in mystery regarding the three helicopters that were on the return flight from Azerbaijan to Iran. There was repeated talk of bad weather conditions. Eleven hours after the last sign of life, the remains of the helicopter were found in thick fog in the high mountains of the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan.

Iranian rescue workers at the wreckage of the crashed Iranian presidential helicopter in the Varzaghan region near Tabriz on May 20, 2024. Photo: EPA-EFE/AZIN HAGHIGHI/MOJ NEWS

Of course, behind the scenes, there was a suspicion in our heads and in the Palestinian media that the Israeli secret service Mossad was behind it. Anyone can choose the culprit: the bad weather, Israel, God or Raisi’s enemies in Iran. In religious circles here, the God of Israel is praised for the removal of the Iranian president, and also for the bonus of taking Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian with him. Less than a month ago, Raisi threatened that there would be “nothing left” of Israel if the Jewish state escalated the conflict by attacking Iran. Israeli media recalled this and added: “God is not mocked.”

“Nothing will change in the Islamic Republic. They are just people in mortal misfortune,” Eliahu Yossian told me. “Nine people died in the helicopter, including three celebrities, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian and a senior spiritual leader and representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi is well known across the region. So is Amir-Abdollahian, who speaks the Arabic language, knows the Arab cultures in the Middle East very well, and was involved in the tactical development of the Shiite militias across the region against Israel. The spiritual leader was in the helicopter and in Azerbaijan for a reason, he knows their culture.”

It is clear from Israeli sources in Jerusalem that Israel has nothing to do with this catastrophe in Iran, although Israel is automatically suspected. But I cannot imagine Tehran blaming the death of the Iranian president on the Israeli Mossad, because that would only further embarrass the Islamic Republic and the ayatollah regime. But if Iran wants to use this as a trigger for war against Israel, then maybe it will blame us – even if falsely. These days, you don’t have to prove anything today, you just have to say it.

The sudden death of the so-called “Executioner of Tehran” and his foreign minister will shake the political system in Iran in the short term and in the upcoming preparations for the battle for Raisi’s successor – but no more. The Supreme Leader of the Iranian Republic, Ali Khamenei, serves as head of state and centralizes in his hands the main administrative powers, especially in foreign and security issues. However, the president is at the top of the executive branch, is officially considered the second most important man in the leadership hierarchy of the Islamic Republic, and has considerable influence on the conduct of state affairs.

“Nothing will change. A few days of mourning and everything goes on as before. There will be celebrations all over Iran. Demonstrations there and here. But no change, no revolution,” Yossian explains.

Historically, Azerbaijan was part of Iran, but was temporarily part of the Soviet Union, which made Azerbaijanis, who are also Shiite Muslims, more secular than the Iranians. As such, Israel was able to establish close ties with Azerbaijan, which did not please its Shiite brothers in Iran.

 

Rivals?

The 63-year-old Raisi was, to put it mildly, not a popular politician in Iran; he had plenty of enemies in Persia. He lost the 2017 presidential election to Hassan Rouhani, and four years later won the next presidential election with the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. Raisi was a brutal leader who had previously presided over the country’s justice system, using particularly cruel methods in dealing with “enemies of the state.” When he took part in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war in 1988, he made many enemies. Quite a few were just waiting for a chance to bring him down.

 

Succession struggles?

Raisi was also considered a protégé of Khamenei. According to Iranian commentators, he could have replaced the 85-year-old supreme leader after his death or resignation. In fact, this sparked internal power struggles within Iran’s leadership, leaving open the possibility that one of his opponents may have attempted to remove him.

Who else might be suspected in this turn of events? We’ll explore that question in-depth with Yossian’s help in an upcoming Member article.

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