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Death of Iranian President Raisi. Politi (NDCF): “The funeral ceremony and the election campaign will be indicative of the regime’s response”

Interviewed by SIR, the Director of the NATO Defence College Foundation discusses possible future scenarios in Iran: “The political establishment will undoubtedly designate a possible successor, although this individual may turn out to be an unexpected reformer”

(Foto AFP/SIR)

Tuesday’s funeral ceremony for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in the city of Tabriz could provide valuable insight into the regime’s response to the crash, which occurred 600 kilometres from Tehran. Attendees and speakers at the funeral will shed some light on how those in power in Iran are reacting to the events. In the view of Alessandro Politi, Director of the Nato Defence College Foundation (NDCF), the funeral ceremony will be followed by news about the upcoming election campaign in the country. “Once the names of the disqualified candidates become known, we will have a clearer picture,” Politi said. Meanwhile, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. They are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. “This is a legal precedent that will serve as a case study,” Politi remarked.

What is the context of the accident that killed President Raisi and Minister Abdollahian?

It follows a period of protracted and crushed protests. The first thing that will happen in the next elections is the candidates’ selection. Of course, the political establishment will nominate a possible successor, but this person could turn out to be an unexpected reformer, as has often been the case in strictly controlled political regimes. For the time being, there will clearly be a strong desire for continuity, even though the domestic factions of the Iranian leadership are thriving and operational. The country is confronted with the Pasdaran’s protracted rise to power and, at the same time, the need for sanctions to be lifted. This death is certainly not convenient for the Iranian government.

What is likely to happen in Iran tomorrow?

It is now up to the vice-president, Mohammad Mokhber, to call elections within the next 50 days. It has to be said that radical change is unlikely in Iran. The issue is of a strictly internal nature: Raisi was elected with a record low turnout, he was a loyalist of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The alternatives could be either a cleric who risks becoming sooner or later the front-runner to succeed Khamenei; a technocrat or a reformist who could be picked as a scapegoat for the country’s deteriorating economy.

The fact of the matter is that, as in other countries in the Middle East (regardless of the electoral system), we are now seeing a militarisation of state power, which is detrimental to the wider regional environment.

Did the death of Raisi elicit unexpected reactions abroad?

Apart from some superficial responses, the most interesting reaction came from the United States, which immediately convened the National Security Council. This is a professional reaction. Political leaders are expected to plan for tomorrow, for the aftermath of Raisi. I would not be surprised if the Israeli war cabinet also called a meeting. What matters most is to understand where Iran’s government is going. Nobody knows yet, not even in Tehran.

The funeral ceremony will provide the first clues. We will get a clearer picture depending on who speaks and what rumours circulate in the political environment.

Iran has announced the opening of an investigation into the crash.

This is bound to happen, because it is in the Government’s own interest to know. The security services will be part of the investigation, as it may even have been the work of Iranian dissidents. It’s a complex situation and more information will be available in the coming days. Once the names of the disqualified candidates are known, we will have a clearer picture. The choice of Foreign Minister is a different matter, as the Vice-President will cover that role for the time being, while it is possible that a person with more political clout will be named at a later date. We know very little at the moment, for example, as to who benefits from this incident, because the spectrum is very broad and it is not easy to define because every president always has many opponents.

At the same time, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the grounds that both men bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Netanyahu has already said that this is a “moral outrage of historic proportions.” Is this another earthquake?

It is an important precedent. War crimes and crimes against humanity transcend the political status of the person indicted or the country involved in the crime. It is a legal precedent that will become a case study. From a de jure perspective, it is erga omnes. Far from being trivial, this act is more than apparent to those whose arrest is sought. There is no guarantee that the Court will grant the request, but regardless of the dynamics involved in the various fora, it envisages prosecuting a Head of State. The immediate reactions can be explained, but they remain rhetorical. The Prosecutor’s request is in line with the erga omnes legal principle, according to which there are no justifiable and unjustifiable war crimes, otherwise the law would no longer apply. For the second time, following South Africa’s ICJ case, the Israeli government is seeing the lawfulness and legitimacy of its conduct being contested in an international legal forum, which is far more distressing for it than the many UN resolutions. Of course, the political fact is that in a rule-based order everyone, all governments, whether de jure or de facto, can be held accountable for their actions: whether we like it or not, it is a sign of a major change with far-reaching consequences.

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