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2:00 am ET, May 20, 2024

Analysis: Iran’s president’s death comes at a critical time for the Middle East

From CNN’s Jerome Taylor

Vehicles of rescue teams are seen near the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Varsagan, northwest Iran, on May 19.

Azin Haghighi, Moj News Agency/AP

Iran’s president and foreign minister killed in helicopter crash in remote mountains It comes at a particularly critical moment in the Middle East — and for Iran at home.

Israel’s war against Hamas and the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded in Gaza over the past seven months have stirred global opinion and raised tensions across the Middle East.

It has brought to light the decades-long shadow war between Iran and Israel.

Last month, Iran launched an unprecedented offensive Drone and missile attack on Israel – its first direct attack on that country – in response to a deadly apparent Israeli airstrike Iranian Embassy in Damascus It killed a top commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Israel A week later it struck againIt strikes targets outside the Iranian city of Isfahan with a very small, measured response, according to US officials.

Since then the direct strike between the two has stopped. But the proxy war continues as pro-Iranian militias such as Hamas and Hezbollah continue to battle Israel’s forces.

Meanwhile, Iran’s hard-line leadership has faced the latest eruption of popular protests in the streets at home for years. US-led sanctions They hit hard.

The country was rocked by youth-led protests against the clerical regime and dire economic conditions following the death of Mahza Amini in custody by Iran’s notorious morality police in 2022.

Iranian authorities responded to the protests by launching a broad crackdown on the opposition.

That repression has led to human rights abuses, some of them “Crimes Against Humanity” According to a United Nations report released in March.

Although the protests have largely stopped, opposition to the clerical leadership remains deep-rooted among many Iranians, especially the youth, who yearn for reform, jobs and a move away from banning religious rule.

A former hardline judiciary chief with his own brutal human rights record, Raisi is slated to be elected president in 2021, a vote he will run virtually unopposed in a vote heavily shaped by the Islamic Republic’s political elite.

Raisi defeated a more moderate candidate and his victory marked the beginning of a new difficult era in Iran. However, only 41 percent votes were registered in that election. Low achievement.

The powers of Iran’s president are ultimately dwarfed by those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the final arbiter of the Islamic Republic’s domestic and foreign affairs.

With Raisi dead, fresh elections are likely.

Iran’s constitutional vice president – currently Mohammad Moghar – will assume the interim presidency and a new presidential election must be held within 50 days.

That means Iran’s clerical establishment, led by Khamenei, must now find a new leader who can throw their support behind a backdrop of extreme regional insecurity and domestic discontent.

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