The proof of the fear of extremism in Iran’s positions, following the election of the conservative Ibrahim Raisi as president instead of Hassan Rouhani, was provided by Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif who said last night that the agreement to return Iran and the United States to the original nuclear deal would change before Iran changes. The message could mean an attempt to make it clear to a negotiating partner that the negotiations need to be concluded before a new boss arrives. Zarif, who is identified with the agreement more than any other Iranian figure (and will also be replaced soon), urges the partnership to hurry.
Israel has had few reactions to the election: Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lapid wrote: “Iran’s new president is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. His election should inspire renewed determination to stop the Iranian nuclear program immediately and put an end to its destructive regional ambitions.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Ram Ben-Barak tweeted: “Raisi’s election as Iran’s next president is conclusive evidence of Khamenei’s decision to radicalize Iran’s conduct in foreign, nuclear and terrorist policies. A great challenge is placed at the door of the West and a great challenge is placed at the door of Israel. “
Ben-Barak touches on an important point: the significant foreign policy – and certainly the policy on the nuclear issue – is determined by Supreme Leader Khamenei. He is the one who authorized Rouhani and Zarif to move forward with the nuclear agreement, and he is the one who led to the exit from it and the acceleration of uranium enrichment following the renewal of sanctions. Khamenei led to the election of Raisi by disqualifying nominations from personalities who might have endangered Raisi, such as former President Ahmadinejad.
Extremism in the Iranian line and toughening of requirements
Raisi, the head of the judiciary, a much more radical cleric than Rohani, has more than once spoken out against the nuclear deal and its return to it. Khamenei will make such decisions – but Raisi will have considerable influence – he will be the one to elect a new foreign minister, and the list of candidates heralds extremism in the Iranian line and toughening of requirements, which even now are not particularly moderate.
According to one publication, the Iranians demand that the United States pledge that no future president of the United States will be able to repeal the agreement as Trump did – a demand that a democratic state like the United States will not be able to meet. With a much more radical foreign minister and president – reaching an agreement seems much more problematic And so one can understand the Zarif statement as well.
But opponents of the agreement and its return to the Gulf and Israel can not yet celebrate: Iran’s main motive for returning to the agreement is the lifting of sanctions that have plunged the Iranian economy into an unprecedented slump, and an ongoing monetary and humanitarian crisis. The new president will be expected to find a solution to this crisis, and without the lifting of sanctions, there is no real chance of that.
The people of Iran do not place too much hope on him, at least based on voting data. Only about 49% of eligible voters went to the polls, a negative record in Iranian history, and in the capital Tehran the turnout was only 25%. The younger generation and opponents of the regime boycotted the vote, as did those in despair of the economic situation and those who were outraged at the disqualification of most of the candidates in the election.
During the years of the ayatollahs’ rule, the 61-year-old Raisi passed mainly under the judiciary. He was the prosecutor general of Tehran, the head of the General Supervision Organization of the Judiciary, the deputy head of the judiciary and the Iranian attorney general. In his role there he was accused of being involved in the execution of thousands of dissidents in the 1980s after the Islamic Revolution in the country.
According to the human rights organization Amnesty International, he was one of four judges who oversaw the death penalty given to some 5,000 prisoners at the end of the war with Iraq. In the previous presidential election, an audio tape from 1988 was released stating Raisi’s involvement – as part of his role as a judge – in the execution of political prisoners. The tape shows Ayatollah Montazari, the deputy leader of the then Supreme Leader Khomeini, saying the executions included pregnant women and 15-year-old girls, and that these were the most serious crimes ever committed in the Islamic Republic. The tape was released by Montserrat’s son, and for this act the son was sent to prison. Particularly ridiculous, Raisi himself was the plaintiff in the case.
An Amnesty Secretary-General said in a statement: “The fact that Ibrahim Raisi was elected president instead of being investigated for crimes against humanity for murder, forced disappearances and torture is a sad reminder of Iran’s immunity,” Amnesty further accused him of granting immunity to regime and security forces accused of killing protesters. The 2019 protest, and the United States even imposed personal sanctions on him because of it.
In 2016, he was appointed by the leader to be in charge of the Imam Raza Foundation in the city of Mashhad, a powerful foundation that controls significant Islamic sanctuaries, large-scale assets and huge budgets. In addition to his role as head of the judiciary, Raisi serves as a member of the “Council for Determining the Interest of the Regime” and as deputy chairman of the “Council of Experts”, which is responsible for overseeing the leader’s activities, appointing an heir and even dismissing him if he finds him unfit to continue in office. Held in May 2017, Raisi ran against incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, but was defeated after winning 16 million votes compared to the more than 23 million votes Rouhani received.
He is considered gray and lacks charisma but is nevertheless appointed head of the judiciary. He declared a fight against corruption, but refused investigations against his predecessor Sadek Larijani who held dozens of bank accounts in his name – which were allegedly used to accept bribes from citizens who were in judicial proceedings. Although he ousted a number of dozens of judges, who were accused of involvement in corruption.
As far as Israel is concerned, apart from the nuclear aspect, Raisi is a supporter of the policy of increasing Iranian influence in the region, ie support for the terrorist organizations near Iran’s table. Aid for these organizations is expected to increase and some of them have issued congratulatory messages of his choice: Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Hazem Qassem, congratulated Iran on “the success of the democratic process” and said “Iran has always been a real pillar and supporter of the Palestinian cause and resistance.”
The Islamic Jihad also said, “Once again, the Iranian people have reiterated their commitment to the path of revolution and its regime.” Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah tweeted: “Salam, Ibrahim.”