What happens in the event of Raisi’s death? An Iran expert weighs in

Ebrahim Raisi became president of Iran in 2021

Trey Yingst: Search and rescue underway for Iran's president amid reported crash

Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst has the latest on reports a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reportedly crashed in northern Iran on 'Fox Report.'

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi crashed in Iran’s East Azerbaijin province Sunday into a fog-shrouded forest. 

As multiple emergency crews instigated search-and-rescue operations, speculation mounted as to what would happen in the event of Raisi’s death, and what it would mean for Iran's internal affairs.

Fox News Digital spoke with Behnam Ben Taleblu, an expert on Iranian security at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), to discuss the implications for Iran’s domestic politics. 

The helicopter crash, Taleblu noted, comes after years of growing protests in the streets against the regime, as well as plummeting participation in elections. 


Ebrahim Raisi sitting in a white chair

In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency Office, President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev during the inauguration ceremony of dam of Qiz Qalasi, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, at the border of Iran and Azerbaijan, Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

"Raisi was a symbol of the hard right shift of what's left of the governing elite of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Taleblu said. "It represents kind of this second generation where, loyalty and zeal rather than capability and competence were key factors in his political ascension." 

Taleblu noted that Raisi has had blood on his hands for decades, having been involved in the mass execution of prisoners in the late 1980s.

Raisi, now 63, previously ran Iran's judiciary. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2017 against Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who as president reached Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

In 2021, Raisi became president of Iran in an election that saw all of his potentially prominent opponents barred from running under Iran's vetting system. He swept nearly 62% of the 28.9 million votes, the lowest turnout by percentage in the Islamic Republic's history. Millions stayed home and others voided ballots.


While a powerful position on paper, Raisi has "no domestic organic social support base," Taleblu said. "He’s really a vehicle for the ultra hard-right consolidation in Iranian Islamic politics." 

Raisi has long been seen as a protégé to Iran's supreme leader and a potential successor for his position within the country's Shiite theocracy. But with Raisi potentially out of the way, Taleblu said, "the short list would have gotten even shorter." 

"Another person on that shortlist, that would benefit significantly from this is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, who right now basically wields power without accountability. And many, allege that he is interested in becoming the next supreme leader, or that he may be jockeying to become the next Supreme leader as well," Taleblu said.

Iran ultimately is run by its 85-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But as president, Raisi supported the country's enrichment of uranium up to near-weapons-grade levels, as well as it hampering international inspectors as part of its confrontation with the West.

Raisi also supported attacking Israel in a massive assault in April that saw over 300 drones and missiles fired at the country in response to a suspected Israeli attack that killed Iranian generals at the country's embassy compound in Damascus, Syria — itself a widening of a yearslong shadow war between the two countries.

Masha Amini poster

Protests in Iran, which started with the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after being detained on the grounds that she did not comply with the headscarf rules, continue.  (Hakan Akgun / dia images via Getty Images)

He also supported the country's security services as they cracked down on all dissent, including in the aftermath of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini and the nationwide protests that followed.

The monthslong security crackdown killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained. In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the "physical violence" that led to Amini's death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

Bradford Betz is a Fox News Digital breaking reporter covering crime, political issues, and much more. 

Authored by Bradford Betz via FoxNews May 19th 2024