Iran Mourns President Raisi Following Tragic Helicopter Crash

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TEHRAN | Xinhua | Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead on Monday after his helicopter crashed in the country’s mountainous northwestern region on Sunday.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA confirmed the deaths of Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Governor of East Azarbaijan Province Malek Rahmati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Representative to East Azerbaijan Mohammad Ali Ale-Hashem and Raisi’s bodyguard, all of whom were onboard the same helicopter.

Khamenei announced on Monday five days of public mourning.

CRASH

Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, told the semi-official Tasnim news agency early Monday that the crash site was located after hours of extensive search in the mountainous region of East Azerbaijan.

An image released by the IRNA showed the wreckage of the helicopter scattered across a mountain peak. Rescuers faced harsh weather conditions and low temperatures during their search, which began immediately after the crash was reported on Sunday.

The crash occurred as Raisi travelled from the Azerbaijani border following his attendance at a ceremony to inaugurate a storage dam with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

In an interview with state TV IRIB on Sunday, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi attributed the helicopter’s crash to bad weather conditions, which he said also hindered search and rescue efforts.

Raisi, 63, was born in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran. Before being elected Iranian president in 2021, he held prominent positions, including judiciary chief and Tehran prosecutor.

In a statement quoted by the IRNA on Monday, the Iranian cabinet said Raisi was an “indefatigable and hard-working president” who “made the ultimate sacrifice on the path of serving his nation.”

To mourn Raisi’s death, the Iranian government has draped his seat with a black robe. Across various provinces, preparations are underway for mourning ceremonies, while events scheduled for National Cultural Heritage Week have been canceled, as reported by the IRNA.

Raisi’s death comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, marked by an exchange of attacks in April fueled by the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in October last year, while efforts to revive negotiations and salvage the Iran nuclear deal have hit a deadlock.

Armed groups in the region like the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen have launched attacks on Israeli targets in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians.

CONDOLENCES

After Raisi’s death, many world leaders and foreign governments expressed sorrow.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday sent a message of condolence to Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, in which the Chinese leader expressed deep condolences and extended sincere sympathies to Mokhber, the family of President Raisi, and the Iranian government and people.

Leaders from Russia, Türkiye, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, Syria, Qatar, Pakistan, Venezuela and India, along with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and European Council President Charles Michel, have all sent messages of condolence after Raisi’s death.

“We extend our deepest condolences and sympathy to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, and to the Iranian government and people,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani said in a statement.

Hamas, which has been in an escalating conflict with Israel since last October, expressed sympathy to the Iranian people for “this immense loss,” lauding Raisi’s support for the Palestinian cause and resistance against Israel.

IMPACT

The Iranian Constitution stipulates that in case of the president’s death or incapacity, the first vice president will assume the role until an election is conducted within a maximum of 50 days.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Monday appointed the country’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as interim president.

Iran’s Constitutional Council Spokesman Hadi Tahan Nazif said that with Khamenei’s approval, a council consisting of the Iranian judiciary chief, parliament speaker and first vice president will take measures to organize elections within 50 days.

Even though the death of high-ranking officials is a blow to Iran’s political governance, analysts said the “shock” can be absorbed.

Khamenei has told Iranian people not to worry, promising “no disruption” to the country’s affairs.

“Iran, since its Islamic revolution in 1979 … has proved to be more than capable of taking all sorts of shots (against it), especially when it comes to political leaders,” opined Marwan Bishara, a senior political analyst from Al Jazeera.

On the diplomatic front, while the passing of the foreign minister is a significant loss for Iran, analysts said the country’s foreign policy will not undergo substantial changes.

Amir-Abdollahian “has been an extremely effective foreign minister, overseeing a successful reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and navigating a series of difficult crises,” according to an analysis by the Times of Israel. But “Iran’s broad foreign policy won’t change,” it noted.

However, some analysts believe the incident will prompt Iran to shift its political focus toward domestic matters.

The country can now be “a little more self-engaged, wrapped up in internal politics, as it sorts out the election for the next president,” said Michael Makovsky, president and chief executive of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

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