Raisi’s Death: Significations and Consequences



After hours of anxious waiting, Iranians were officially informed that the president of the republic, the minister of foreign affairs and their entourage perished in a helicopter crash caused by adverse weather conditions. Despite the involvement of high-ranking state officials and the need for assistance from neighboring countries in the search efforts, the prolonged uncertainty surrounding the incident highlights numerous issues within the Iranian government’s operations. The abrupt disappearance of President Ebrahim Raisi from the political landscape prompts significant questions about the event’s immediate and long-term impacts on the country, especially as Iran grapples with critical political challenges, most notably the succession of the supreme leader.

Significations of the Crash of the Helicopter Carrying Raisi and His Accompanying Delegation 

The fatal incident involving Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions in a rugged mountainous area of the Varazqan forest near the Azerbaijani border in East Azerbaijan Province, northwestern Iran, holds several implications:

Specifications of the Helicopter That Carried Raisi 

The helicopter carrying the Iranian president was a US-made Bell 212, produced in the 1970s. It was nearly five decades old and incompatible with today’s significant technological advancements. Single-engine helicopters like the Bell 212 are also less suitable for high-level missions. Iran had a viable alternative in the Soviet/Russian-made Mi-17, acquired about two decades ago, which  does not suffer from a shortage of spare parts.

Despite the widespread use of the helicopter that carried Raisi globally, it had become dilapidated in Iran due to the difficulty of obtaining spare parts for modernization, a consequence of sanctions imposed because of Iran’s nuclear, ballistic and expansionist policies. The deterioration of Iran’s air transport sector, stemming from these sanctions, has increased accidents over the past decade. These incidents have included engine fires, runway deviations during takeoff or landing and collisions with mountain ranges, culminating in the fiery crash of the helicopter carrying President Raisi.

Search and Rescue Efforts

Iran’s inability to determine the location of the president’s helicopter crash for many hours highlighted significant weaknesses in the state agencies responsible for search and rescue, as well as the deterioration of the Iranian aviation fleet. The search operations revealed the outdated devices and equipment used to search for such a high-profile figure and his senior entourage. Rescuers from the army and the Red Crescent lacked the advanced equipment necessary for a search on a dark, snowy night with heavy fog on the mountain slopes. Photos shared on social media showed rescuers without night vision goggles and no mobile phone signals in the densely wooded, sparsely populated area.

Therefore, Iran was forced to request assistance from Turkey, which sent the technologically advanced Akinci drone to search for the wreckage of the president’s helicopter and his companions. Iran also asked the European Union to activate the satellite mapping service to locate the helicopter. Without this help, Iran would not have been able to find the wreckage, as it lacked night vision or infrared cameras necessary for such weather and terrain, especially at night. However, the Iranian government claimed that its drones identified the crash site, prompting the Turkish side and flight data tracking services to reveal the drone’s aerial signature.

Weather Monitoring Equipment 

Weather monitoring devices at international airports constantly track weather conditions and are updated according to international standards. Typically, travelers receive notifications to postpone flights until conditions improve. This vigilance should be heightened when it involves a helicopter carrying national leaders and senior officials. Thus, the incident raises a critical question: Where were the weather forecasters before the president’s trip? They should have sent reports of adverse weather conditions to postpone the trip, especially in such foggy conditions.  This suggests that Iran’s weather monitoring systems may not be up to date or fail to meet international standards. The sanctions and international isolation Iran faces due to its policies have likely hindered the development of adequate weather monitoring devices, contributing to such oversights.

The weather conditions and poor visibility encountered by the helicopter surpassed its capabilities. Lacking specialized communication or emergency equipment, the pilot likely had little time to transmit coordinates before crashing into the dense fog above the forest. Emergency transmitters onboard could have potentially saved lives. This incident casts doubt on Iran’s claims of being capable of constructing intelligent flying drones or licensed versions of helicopters like the Mi-17. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the Russians in 2017 for this purpose, but the crash has undermined confidence in Iran’s aviation ambitions.

Security Arrangements  for Senior State Officials 

Countries typically have strict protocols governing the travel of senior leaders and officials, often prohibiting the grouping of multiple high-ranking individuals in one helicopter. Given its significance, it is surprising that Iran permitted  several senior statesmen, including the president and foreign minister, in one helicopter under adverse weather conditions. Despite the short distance between Tabriz Airport, where the presidential plane landed, and the project celebration attended by the president of Azerbaijan, this decision raises questions about Iran’s security protocols. Placing such a number of senior leaders in a helicopter instead of a plane raises concerns about the security measures in place. Helicopters fly at lower altitudes and slower speeds than planes, making them more vulnerable to targeting. Additionally, older helicopters like the one involved may struggle to send distress signals in case of technical issues, unlike planes. Therefore, allowing a helicopter with these specifications to carry multiple senior leaders in such weather conditions prompts questions about Iran’s decision-making process regarding security and transportation protocols.

Security Measures Adopted to Safeguard Raisi, Khamenei’s Potential Successor

The circumstances surrounding the incident, including the decision to transport a significant number of senior leaders in one helicopter and the failure of weather monitoring devices, as well as the prolonged search for the president’s plane, underscore a concerning laxity in the state apparatus’ ability to safeguard leaders of comparable importance to the head of state. Raisi successfully ended the longstanding disagreement — which prevailed during former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure — between two key state apparatuses: The office of the Supreme Leader and the presidency by securing ultimate power for  his current; the “hardliners.” He secured power and emerged as a strong candidate to navigate the issue of succession within the ruling establishment, potentially following in Khamenei’s footsteps both domestically and abroad. The incident reveals a significant failure in understanding the importance of such a key figure within Iran’s power structure by state agencies. His untimely demise is poised to precipitate a major crisis within the political system’s inner circles, signaling a potential breakdown in leadership and governance.

The Consequences of Raisi’s Death Internally and Externally 

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei swiftly reassured Iranians, emphasizing that the incident would not disrupt state administration. With institutional and constitutional frameworks in place, the Iranian establishment is expected to navigate this exceptional situation successfully. However, Khamenei’s messages of reassurance also hint at underlying concerns stemming from the absence of the president of the republic. This absence is poised to have significant repercussions internally and externally, given the close correlation between the supreme leader and the president of the republic within the Iranian ruling establishment’s hierarchy and political landscape.


The president of the republic holds the second-highest position in Iran’s leadership hierarchy, following the supreme leader, albeit with significant differences in powers. Despite this discrepancy, the president’s role remains crucial and holds considerable influence over the political system, particularly in two intertwined matters: the ongoing debate between the “reformists” and  “conservatives” and the transition to the post-Khamenei era.

The Spat Between the “Reformists” and “Conservatives” 

Through the Majlis (Islamic Consultative Assembly) and Assembly of Experts elections held in March 2023, the supreme leader finalized the internal power structure by sidelining the “reformists,” who lost their presence in state institutions now under the control of the “conservative” movement. The upcoming presidential elections would likely have solidified “conservative” dominance, especially given Raisi’s performance, which would have set the stage for a potential second term for him — had he not died in the crash. Consequently, the Iranian establishment faces several significant risks in the next stage, including:

  • The possibility of the “reformists” making a strong comeback to the scene despite the state institutions remaining under control  of the supreme leader and the Islami Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, the “reformist” movement’s margin for maneuver will be greater, with the possibility of excluding their powerful symbols from the presidential elections through the Guardian Council, which had previously excluded Hassan Rouhani and other leaders of the movement from the previous Assembly of Experts elections, but nevertheless, they will have room to confuse the authorities from  by focusing on the undemocratic measures taken against them.
  • The absence of Raisi from the political scene presents a challenge for the “hardliners,” prompting them to reassess their strategy for the next stage. With their dominance over state institutions, competition among hardline factions has emerged, exemplified by the ongoing conflict over the position of Speaker of Parliament. It is plausible that the competition to succeed Raisi will further intensify internal rifts among the “hardliners,” potentially sparking new conflicts within the movement.
  • The transitional phase Iran is experiencing following the death of the president of the republic sets the stage for potential conflicts between “hardliners” and “reformists,” as well as internal divisions within the “hardliner” camp, all of which are intricately linked to the post-Khamenei era. This volatile environment increases the likelihood of spontaneous or orchestrated protests, heightening the risks of political instability. In a country grappling with severe economic challenges, the president’s death in the  helicopter crash serves as a stark manifestation of these difficulties.
  • On the economic front, it is unlikely that the incident will trigger additional economic crises beyond those Iran was already grappling with before the tragedy, especially if there were no external parties implicated in the incident that might provoke Iran to respond and stoke economic anxieties domestically. However, the incident may pose challenges to the internal business environment. There could be obstacles or delays in the execution of existing government economic projects and plans, as well as investor apprehension about the future and a reluctance to commit capital until the next economic trajectory becomes clear. The direction set by the next president, along with the decisions made by his deputy, Mohammad Mokhber — who holds several key executive positions and oversees significant economic institutions in Iran, notably the Setad Foundation, managing funds worth tens of billions of dollars — will shape the economic landscape moving forward.
  • The crash of the dilapidated presidential helicopter may prompt Iran to exert increased pressure on Europe and the United States in the future, urging them to lift or ease economic sanctions, particularly in vital sectors such as aviation. These sanctions have hindered access to necessary updates and spare parts, contributing to the tragic death of the president and his foreign minister. Moreover, they have inflicted damage on numerous vital sectors in Iran, including tourism, automobile and  others.
  • The immediate economic impact following the accident is marked by a relative increase in foreign exchange rates, coupled with the possibility of temporary fluctuations in exchange rates and financial markets in the coming days — a natural response during crises. Meanwhile, international oil prices experienced a slight uptick of 0.35%, reaching $84.3 per barrel of Brent crude.
  • It is crucial to highlight that Iran has endured significant economic challenges over the past three years under the leadership of the late President Raisi. These challenges include a record surge in inflation, particularly in food prices, alongside upsurges in foreign exchange rates. Additionally, various forms of support were terminated and the growth of budget deficits and poverty rates. These persistent challenges continue to confront Iran’s economy.

Raisi’s Death and the Post-Khamenei Era

Raisi’s sudden death has unsettled the post-Khamenei landscape and the succession to the position of the next supreme leader. As a respected
sayyid and mujtahid (qualified jurist), Raisi was widely regarded as the leading candidate to succeed Khamenei, enjoying acceptance among Iran’s ruling elite and influential circles. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his death — whether accidental or involving internal or external factors — the incident marks a departure from the traditional succession path for the supreme leader within the Iranian state.  Raisi followed the traditional trajectory established by Ayatollah Khomeini and later continued by Khamenei. As Khamenei’s student in advanced seminary studies (bahth al-kharij), Raisi earned trust due to his scholarly and political credentials. However, this close relationship may have unsettled rivals within state corridors and the hawza, who perceive Raisi’s ascent as a threat to their strategic interests. Consequently, speculation has resurfaced regarding Mojtaba Khamenei’s potential succession to his father. Mojtaba’s alignment with the IRGC positions him as a formidable contender, potentially diverging from the norms established by the Iranian revolution of 1979 and even straying from Shiite tradition, particularly in the governance model of Wilayat al-Faqih.

Another scenario, not to be dismissed, is the IRGC assuming power directly through a forceful coup following Khamenei’s death, his incapacitation, or in response to significant unrest threatening Iranian national security from the perspective of the IRGC. Alternatively, they might do so indirectly by influencing the appointment of Khamenei’s successor, effectively controlling the position from behind the scenes. This would signify a departure from the legacy established by Ayatollah Khomeini since the Iranian revolution, ushering in a new era for Iran with a different governance philosophy. The implications of such a shift are significant, regardless of how it is perceived in terms of strength, weakness, righteousness, or malevolence. It would prompt a reevaluation of Iran’s role in the region and the ability of the new ruling elite to strike a strategic balance both internally, between the hawza and the state, and externally in regional dynamics.

At the Foreign Policy Level 

The late President  Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister played significant roles in Iranian foreign policy, yet they were not the sole decision-makers. Iran’s foreign policy is shaped through an internal consensus-building process involving various entities, including the National Security Council, the IRGC, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Additionally, there are individuals close to the Supreme Leader who contribute their perspectives on foreign policy matters, alongside input from public opinion and the media. However, it is essential to note that this consensus-building process operates under the guidance and oversight of the supreme leader, who holds decisive authority in determining Iran’s final stance on external matters, particularly concerning sensitive issues.

Raisi and Abdollahian, both aligned with the “hardliner” movement, garnered significant approval and appreciation from the supreme leader. This endorsement empowered them to wield considerable influence in shaping Iranian foreign policy during Raisi’s presidency. Within this framework, Raisi pursued a foreign policy that balanced adherence to ideological principles with pragmatic realism, reflecting his background and shaping the nature of his diplomatic initiatives. Raisi adhered closely to the supreme leader’s directives in defending Iran’s external identity, which manifested in heightened tensions with the United States, a focus on resolving Iran’s issues independently from the nuclear agreement, and increased confrontations with Israel. Simultaneously, he pursued a practical approach that emphasized strengthening ties with Eastern countries, prioritizing economic diplomacy, and working towards improving relations with neighboring states, including efforts to restore ties with Saudi Arabia.

Considering these factors, Raisi’s departure may not significantly alter Iran’s general approach to foreign policy. The consensus within Iran regarding foreign policy issues remains unchanged, with the supreme leader continuing to serve as the guiding force. Thus, whoever succeeds Raisi is unlikely to deviate from the established Iranian foreign policy trajectory, even if they are affiliated with the reformist movement. Historical precedent suggests that past presidents, whether “reformist” or “hardliner,” who attempted to diverge from the Supreme Leader’s approach faced challenges to their authority, with efforts to veer from the establishment’ ideological orientations ultimately thwarted.

The unexpected absence of Raisi and his foreign minister will undoubtedly disrupt their established momentum and the relationships they cultivated with the international community. Abdollahian, in particular, played a significant role within the resistance axis and was instrumental in coordinating Iran’s policies within this framework. Looking ahead, the long-term impact could be even more significant. Raisi was considered a potential successor to Khamenei, and there were expectations that he would uphold the survival of the “Islamic Republic” and preserve its foreign policy approach. Therefore, their sudden absence may affect ongoing diplomatic initiatives and have implications for the future leadership and direction of Iran’s foreign policy.

Iran finds itself in a precarious external situation, with its nuclear program in jeopardy and facing significant regional confrontations, particularly with the United States and Israel. The Middle East is undergoing a critical juncture, and Raisi and  Abdollahian played crucial roles in navigating these complex issues. Their sudden absence may lead to some uncertainty until Iran can restore the effectiveness of its foreign policy institutions. During the transitional phase, First Vice President Mokhber will temporarily assume Raisi’s duties for 50 days. However, Mokhber’s focus on economic matters during this period may lead to a diminished emphasis on foreign policy issues. Instead, attention may be directed towards managing the transitional phase and preparing for upcoming elections as part of the internal restructuring process. This shift could potentially result in shortcomings in the foreign policy agenda or the delegation of foreign policy pursuits to institutions such as the National Security Council and the IRGC, potentially leading to more radical policies.

With the new Parliament set to convene its inaugural session in the coming days, the vacuum created by the absence of Raisi and Abdollahian presents an opportunity for it to assert a greater role in shaping Iran’s foreign policy in the next phase. The Parliament may exert influence over Iran’s policy direction through committees like the Foreign Policy Commission, particularly concerning the nuclear file. This influence could potentially steer Iran towards a more extremist stance on the nuclear issue, given that the Parliament is dominated by “hardliner” factions. Notably, these factions have previously passed legislation that bolstered Iran’s escalation of its nuclear measures, although Raisi’s administration had sought to moderate this trajectory in recent years.

Iran’s relations with neighboring Arab countries are unlikely to see significant changes, as Iran remains committed to maintaining its regional influence and ties with affiliated militias in the region. There is a possibility that the IRGC will assume greater control over the coordination  of Iranian militias in the region, potentially leading to the emergence of a figure affiliated with the IRGC to oversee this role. This shift may be particularly pertinent given the tensions following the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, highlighting the continued importance of managing Iran’s regional engagements.

Who Will Take Over Following Raisi’s Death?

Iran is currently experiencing its third instance of a vacancy in the position of the presidency of the republic. The first occurrence arose after the removal of Abul Hassan Bani Sadr. This marks the third time Iran may confront the establishment of a temporary committee to assume the duties of the president. During Khomeini’s rule on June 20, 1981, he removed the first post-revolutionary president of Iran, Abul Hassan Bani Sadr, accusing him of betraying the fundamental principles of the Iranian revolution. The second instance unfolded after the tragic assassination of President Mohammad-Ali Rajai and his Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar on August 30, 1981.

According to Article 131 of the Iranian Constitution, “In case of death, dismissal, resignation, absence or sickness for longer than two months of the President of the Republic, or in case the term of presidency is over but as a result of obstacles the new President of the Republic is still not elected, or other circumstances of this kind, the first deputy of the President of the Republic, with the consent of the leadership, assumes the authority and responsibilities of the president. A council consisting of the head of the Assembly, the president of the judiciary power, and the first deputy of the President of the Republic are obliged to make arrangements that in a maximum of fifty days the new President of the Republic is elected. In case the first deputy dies or other circumstances prevent him from fulfilling his duties, or in case the President of the Republic does not have a first deputy, the leader assigns another person in his stead.”

As per Article 131 of the Iranian Constitution, First Vice President  Mokhber  will serve as interim president  for the next 50  days until presidential elections are conducted. This appointment requires the approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Mokhber holds significant influence across various economic sectors, including communications and energy, making him a close associate of Supreme Leader Khamenei. This strong position enhances his leadership of the presidency during the upcoming period and potentially positions him as a candidate in the next presidential elections, as per the Iranian  Constitution, scheduled to occur in approximately 50 days.

The late  president earned significant trust from the supreme leader, and his tenure, lasting approximately three years, witnessed stable relations with all government institutions. This starkly contrasts with the tensions that marked Rouhani’s government, both in domestic and  foreign policy.  Consequently, the supreme leader and “conservative” figures will likely endeavor, in the time remaining until the presidential elections, to cultivate a figure possessing traits similar to the late president — namely, unwavering obedience and loyalty to the leader, coupled with a commitment to advancing the policies and objectives of the “conservative” current.

In recent years, the Iranian establishment has grappled with a significant dilemma: dwindling public participation in elections, reaching its nadir during the recent parliamentary elections. This trend reflects a loss of confidence in the establishment’s policies and the severe economic crisis endured by the populace for years. Coupled with the ongoing repression of civil liberties, this has resulted in a downward trajectory of popular participation. Unless the establishment institutes fundamental reforms to its internal and foreign policies, this declining participation trend will likely persist.


The incident underscores the systemic weaknesses within the Iranian state apparatus, revealing its inadequate technological capabilities to effectively manage such accidents. The necessity to seek technological assistance from the European Union and Turkey for search and rescue operations further highlights this deficiency. Moreover, the disarray in announcing crucial details regarding the accident and the subsequent confusion signify a lack of comprehensive crisis management within the state. This exposes the hollowness of Iran’s claims to be an advanced military power, not only to the international community but also to its own people. The Iranian populace, weary of the establishment’s failure to address crises stemming from sanctions and isolation due to its nuclear and expansionist policies, questions the rationale behind the substantial military budget, especially when state agencies prove incapable of safeguarding top officials. Consequently, Iran is compelled to reassess both its internal and external policies, which have contributed to its isolation. A new strategy is imperative to alleviate this isolation, focusing on rebuilding state institutions and modernizing agencies in line with international standards. This reevaluation is essential to restore public trust and enhance the state’s capacity to fulfill its responsibilities effectively.

Despite the significant loss suffered by the establishment due to the incident, losing two of its most prominent leaders upon whom its future relied, this setback is unlikely to undermine the cohesion of the establishment or its strategic choices. Instead, it can be viewed as a tactical setback that the establishment will navigate by realigning its priorities along the same hardline stance favored by the supreme leader. This adjustment will likely ensure that the “reformist” faction does not regain control.

Editorial Team