How does Iran’s presidential election affect Israel?

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The decision by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali  Khamenei, not to interfere with the “Guardian Council” decision and to keep the list of the presidential candidates intact, guarantees the election of a conservative candidate for president of Iran.

Hassan Rouhani’s presidency seems to have sharpened the understanding of how well a president who is familiar with Iran’s political system – especially one supported by Rouhani such as Ali Larigny – can be a “bone in the throat” that could impede significant moves the leader is seeking to promote, especially preparing the ground for selecting his successor.

The role of president in Iran is not symbolic or negligible in Iranian politics. Although it is Iran’s leader who makes the vast majority of strategic decisions in the country, the president who heads the government, thus allowing the supreme leader to address the more significant issues (in his view) and especially the spiritual guidance of his Shi’ite loyalists.

Sometimes the fact that the president did not come from classical conservative circles (such as Khatami, Ahmadinejad, and certainly Rouhani) enabled Khamenei to roll the blame on the president regarding Iran’s problems.

However, the upcoming Iranian presidential elections to be held on June 18th are unusual. Although Iran’s supreme leader could overturn the decisions of the Guardian Council (which aims to “screen” disloyal candidates ), he preferred not to intervene in this decision.

Thus, the fact that there are only conservative candidate will significantly increase the alienation between the Iranian regime and the population.   In addition, the Iranian leader will find it difficult to find a non-conservative “scapegoat”  to pin the blame on the state of the Iranian economy, for example.

However, Khamenei seems willing to take the risk because of the fact that these elections are  crucial for the question of  Khamenei’s successor.   Khamenei is  81,  has been suffering from cancer for years and talk of possible candidates to replace him has begun to proliferate in recent years. Khamenei assume that In order to ensure an inheritance process in which his candidate is elected, he must place conservative candidates at the main decision points in Iran.

Thus, it seems that in the upcoming presidential elections,  Ibrahim Raisi, head of Iran’s judiciary, who is supposed to be the next leader or at the very least promote the candidacy of Khamenei’s candidacy (his son MUjtaba, or another conservative candidate) will probably win.  One main reason behind the regime’s decision to prevent a “moderate conservative” candidate from being presented is related to the concerns that another loss by Raisi (like in the 2017 elections) would cause him to lose all public legitimacy to replace Khamenei, severely undermining the legitimacy of the conservatives and even Khamenei himself, who did not hide his support for him.

In addition,  Khamenei may be concerned that as he gets older, his abilities to withstand the surge of attempts by Rouhani and his men to get closer to the West are weakening, so he must make sure that, in the long term, the Islamic revolution will not change its nature.

As for Israel,  this is supposedly excellent news, Raisi’s election prevents any thoughts in the West about a possible change taking place in Iran, determines the regime’s dogmatic view, and strengthens those who oppose any contact with Tehran. In addition, it is important to note that Khamenei’s conduct  increases dissatisfaction among the population in Iran, and along with the dire economic situation, the chances of renewed demonstrations in the country increase.

On the other hand, it is important to note that Raisi’s expected election and the expected weakening of the moderate camp ensures that Iran will continue its dogmatic policy vis-à-vis Israel,  And even escalating its actions in a way that could lead the two countries into an inevitable confrontation.the fact that there will be no one in the Iranian leadership who can stand against the IRGC  deeply troubling and could lead Iran to make more “courageous” decisions.

Bottom line,

Khamenei’s desire to dominate Iran’s political system before the twilight of his rule has pushed him not to interfere in the Guardian Council’s decision, and to leave the presidential elections to conservative candidates only. This decision will help Israel in its massaging campaign against Iran, but without proper Checks and balances in the Iranian leadership, the chances of direct confrontation between Israel and Iran are increasing.

About the Author
Danny (Dennis) Citrinowicz is a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and a senior WEBINT instructor at Cyberpro. Previously, he was senior fellow at the Institute of Policy and Strategy (IPS) and the Abba Eban institute at Reichman University. Danny served 25 years in a variety of command positions units in Israel Defense Intelligence (IDI) including as the head of the Iran branch in the Research and Analysis Division (RAD) in the Israeli defense intelligence and as the division’s representative in the United States.
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