MENA Regional Responses to the Death of President Raisi

On Monday, May 20, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was located and confirmed dead after a helicopter crash the day prior. The president was returning from a delegation trip for the inauguration of a dam on the border with Azerbaijan, and the crash was fatal for all individuals on board, including Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. 

According to the Iranian constitution, upon the passing of the president, the first vice president will hold the position for a maximum of 50 days until a new election, expected to take place in late June.

Regional sources report on the development: 

Haaretz reported that the helicopter carrying the Iranian President “crashed on Sunday as it crossed mountain terrain in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to the border.” The incident occurred near Jolfa, a city on the border of Azerbaijan, northwest of Tehran. Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early Sunday to inaugurate an important dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, the third dam that Iran and Azerbaijan have built together along the Aras River.  

While the Iranian delegation was transported by three helicopters, only the aircraft carrying President Raisi crashed, with the other two arriving safely at their destination. Anadolu Agency shared that “rescue teams faced difficulties reaching the crash site due to the harsh weather and terrain, with some teams reportedly getting lost.” The downed helicopter was ultimately located on Monday morning, with no survivors. 

The helicopter was also carrying Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iranian representative to the East Azerbaijan province Seyyed Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem, and the province’s governor Malek Rahmati, as well as an imam, two military personnel, and the aircraft’s pilot and co-pilot. The Jerusalem Post noted that “details about the incident remained unclear.”

The President and his delegation were traveling in a U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter. According to Al-Arabiya, “Iran was a major buyer of Bell helicopters under the US-backed Shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, though the exact origin of the aircraft that crashed was not clear.” The source also elaborated that, “decades of sanctions have made it hard for Iran to obtain parts or upgrade its aircrafts.” The helicopter was found completely burned after intense search efforts in “blizzard conditions.”

The New Arab highlighted that “some people on social media have accused Iran’s regional enemy, Israel, of being behind the incident with the two countries clashing in recent weeks.” However, “Iran itself has not accused Israel,” and an “unnamed Israeli government source categorically denied any involvement” in the crash.

“The mood among the Iranian public has varied,” the National News explained. The president was “unpopular with many and was known as the ‘butcher of Tehran’ for his role in the execution of about 5,000 political detainees in the 1980s. More recently, the arrest and killing of demonstrators during the Mahsa Amini protests, and the tightening of restrictions on women’s freedoms, also hardened opposition towards [him].” 

Mohammad Mokbher, the first vice president under Raisi, has been named as Iran’s interim president until elections can be organized, and Iran’s “Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved his accession to the role.” Al Jazeera outlined that Mokbher was appointed vice president because he “had a strong connection with the office of the supreme leader, like the late president himself, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” and he is “seen as a man of action with longstanding experience in managing large-scale executive affairs.” Mokbher had formerly been sanctioned by the European Union for alleged involvement in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs but has since been removed from the list.

Mehr News Agency stated: “The elections to elect the next Iranian president will be held on June 28. The registration of candidates will take place from May 30 to June 3, with the campaign period running from June 12 until the morning of June 27.”



(Banner image: Tasnim News Agency)

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