Vitalii Portnikov

President Raisi: Friend of Russia, Enemy of Israel

Commentators reflecting on the death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi often emphasize that he was not the true head of state. They remind us that the real leader of Iran is Ayatollah Khamenei, and any president is merely an aide to the theocratic leader. Consequently, discussions about Raisi’s political legacy are often intertwined with speculations about the future. What if he had survived the crash and become the leader of Iran himself? How might he have influenced the selection of Khamenei’s successor? Would the political course of the country have changed?

However, I prefer to focus not on the potential future that the “Butcher of Tehran” will never see, but on his past and the actual impact he had on Iran’s policies and its relations with other countries. Raisi should not be underestimated. The position of president in Iran is not merely ceremonial; it carries real influence over the country’s direction.

Under Raisi, Iran struck Israel for the first time in its history. It was during his tenure that Iran decided to actively participate in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Raisi also made the use of Iran’s proxy armies in Gaza, Yemen, and Lebanon a conscious strategy. Of course, Ayatollah Khamenei was the supporter and inspirer of this course, but it was Raisi who was willing to put it into practical effect.

Raisi’s predecessors tried to balance relations with the West, China, and Russia. Raisi became a staunch advocate of Russian interests in Iran. His role in supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine cannot be understated. It is no coincidence that on the night news broke of the helicopter crash that killed the Iranian president, Vladimir Putin convened a meeting at the Kremlin with all security ministers and included the Iranian ambassador. Finding another ally in Tehran as devoted as Raisi will be challenging for Putin.

For Raisi, Ukraine was a testing ground, and Israel was a target. His friendship with Putin only facilitated this approach.

In Iran’s theocracy, the president is just one official among many. Yet, Raisi became a very significant official. In his few years in office, he transformed Iran’s political landscape, helping Ayatollah Khamenei make aggression—both against the country’s own population and the external world—the main strategic course of the state. In this respect, he truly mirrored his friend Putin, who is likely mourning the loss.

In the battle between democracies and dictatorships, Raisi was not a mere spectator; he was an active player and a criminal. This killer of Iranians also became the killer of Ukrainians and Israelis. It is crucial not to credit the elderly Ayatollah Khamenei with all the “achievements” of the deceased Iranian president.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.
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