On Jan. 17, in Tehran’s Mosalla (Grand Prayer Grounds), Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Leader” of the Islamic Republic of Iran, led the Friday prayer to address the supporters of his regime. This was the first time in eight years that he appeared as the imam of Friday prayer. He led the prayer following the killing of Qassem Soleimani by the United States. What was very interesting and extremely unusual was, for the first time in public, the presence of Khamenei’s personal doctor.

In one of the photos, Khamenei’s doctor is sitting in the first row behind Khamenei and between his powerful son, Mojtabah Khamenei, and his oldest son, Mostafa Khamenei. In the photo, the doctor has a hard-shell briefcase and what appears to be a small covered cylinder. This could be a clear indication of the deterioration of Khamenei’s health condition. Khamenei is turning 81 years old in April, and his deteriorating health raises questions about his replacement and what else will happen when he dies.

Back in June 1989, one day after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died, Khamenei took his position with the help of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khomeini’s son (who later became Khamenei’s opponent but was possibly eliminated). When Khomeini died, the regime was still fighting Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Blaouchis, and Turkmen who opposed the regime from the first day. Nevertheless, ayatollahs had the support of Fars and Azeri people inside the country, as well as European support for the regime. Khomeini and other Iranian officials were therefore not concerned about a power vacuum, hence why Khomeini had not indicated who could take his place (or at least it was not known).

However, today’s situation is significantly different and unlike the 1980s. The regime has lost its legitimacy among many Persians and Azeris. This lack of legitimacy is also combined with unseen pressure by regional powers and the wider international community. Consequently, Khamenei might have reached the conclusion to make sure he chooses his successor before he dies in order to keep his cult in power.

According to reports from Iran, Mojtaba Khamenei and Ebrahim Raisi, the chief justice of Iran, are two possible options. They are both strong figures, but Mojtaba even more so in terms of financial and military support. Unlike what some arguments suggest, it does not really matter who becomes the next supreme leader at this stage, as long as that person has the strongest financial foothold and the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In regimes which have cultlike followers, the ultimate goal is to keep the establishment alive and strong enough, specifically when the leader dies.

A recent announcement by the Supreme Leader’s Office stated that businesses controlled by military and religious entities, under Khamenei’s direct supervision, were to be listed on Tehran’s stock exchange. This is an indication that saving the regime has become the main focus of the establishment. Moreover, in his speech on Jan. 17, Khamenei attacked anti-regime protesters and told the officials that “resistance” is “what people want.” Consequently, all officials, including the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani, who were interviewed by state TV on that day, repeated the same sentence, “Today is the time for unity, we must unite, and we are united” and accused protesters of being agents of foreign powers.

Furthermore, with the new change of positions within forces loyal to Khamenei and his son, it seems the chance of anyone challenging this narrative is almost nonexistent. This has been exacerbated by misleading campaigns and the narrative peddled by many Western media, and as a result, neither the so-called “reformists” nor “moderates” have had the courage to even slightly criticize the supreme leader or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

All the above, as well as the recent developments and Khamenei’s recent speeches and changes of positions, is indicative of a process in which Khamenei and the entire establishment’s focus will mostly be on three main issues.

First, how to suppress and crack down on protesters inside the country who seek regime change. Consequently, the regime will target active opposition groups inside the country, such as Kurdish and Ahwazi Arab insurgency groups, who are the only ones who have well-established organized networks inside Iran, as well as journalists and activists abroad.

Second, how to overcome the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy by what Khamenei described as “becoming powerful at home.”

And third, keeping the regime united at all costs. This means eliminating threats from individuals or groups inside the power circle, who may seek to side with protesters or opposition groups in order to weaken Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and ultimately overthrow the regime.

As a result, Khamenei has already started countering these threats. Indeed, the recent repositioning and appointing of the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force are revealing. For instance, Esmail Ghaani as the new commander of Quds Force, Mohammad Hejazi as the new deputy commander of Quds force, Hossein Salami as the new commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Reza Naqdi as Joint Staff of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Ali Fadavi as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps deputy coordinator. All of them have been chosen because of their experience in two main fields.

First of all, they are all well known for their roles and experience in cracking down brutally on protesters in the Kurdish uprisings in February 1999, the Iran student protests in July 1999, the 2009 uprisings in Tehran, and the nationwide Iran protests occurring since December 2017. Second of all, Ghaani, Hejazi, Naqdi, Fadavi, and Salami have all been chosen because they all fought for years against Kurdish insurgents in Iran. Their entire military experience is mostly based on fighting insurgents rather than an army.

Besides, all these commanders are known as Salami’s team, and he himself is well known for his loyalty to the Khamenei family rather than anyone else. In addition, Hossein Taeb, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Intelligence Organisation (known as SAS) is one of the closest people to Mojtaba Khamenei.

As a result, whoever Khamenei chooses to serve as the supreme leader(s) will be chosen while he is still alive to avoid any power vacuum and has the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other powerful bodies in Iran.

Consequently, analysis suggesting that the death of Khamenei would present an opportunity for regime change have no weight. With his personal doctor appearing for the first time in public, Khamenei is sending a message to his cult that the next supreme leader is going to be announced. Moreover, recently released photos send a misleading message to a majority of people who want to overthrow the regime: “Khamenei is about to die, wait and do nothing.”

Even if Khamenei dies suddenly and before he appoints the next leaders, keeping his death secret until the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other officials unite around a new leader is going to be very easy. Khamenei has already appeared much less in public than two years ago. If he avoids public appearances for months, nothing would seem out of the ordinary.

Clearly, Khamenei is preparing his supporters for his death to keep the ranks united. Unlike some claims, his death would not bring any significant changes to Iran. The regime is convinced and has prepared itself that as long as it can suppress people at home, especially the ethnic minorities, maximum pressure will not lead to regime change. Even more significantly, Iranian opposition groups are even more divided than they were in 2017 and incapable of leading people inside and outside of Iran.

Source » washingtonexaminer