Ayatollah Khamenei Ready to Retire, Is Shopping for Hard-Line Successor

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is preparing to step down as Iran’s supreme leader. To save the Islamic revolutionary regime from upheaval and preserve his legacy, the ayatollah, 79 and ailing, recently ordered “structural reforms” to be spread over the next four months. By devolving authority to state organs and chosen figures, he plans to maintain control over the transition of power – even after his death.

This process was fast-tracked by the sudden death in late December of Khamenei’s designated successor, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who as his faithful protégé had risen high in the ranks of the Qom clergy.

Khamenei had hoped that Shahroudi would qualify as successor both to himself and to the universally venerated Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, 88, of Iraq. Sistani is the paramount authority of Shia Muslim. He rules from his seat in the Iraqi shrine town of Najef. By combining the two posts under a single supreme ruler in Tehran, Iran would have brought Iraq’s clerical establishment under Qom leadership.

Except that this notion met with outrage from Iraq’s Shiite clerics. They are strongly opposed to the doctrine of velayat-e-faqih. i.e., Islamic government, which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei installed in Tehran following his 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to the doctrine he propounded in a book published in 1970.

His successor, Khamenei, had counted on Shahroudi to continue to embody this revolutionary theology and its anti-West, anti-American and anti-Israel tenets. Now he must find candidates with these attributes. Currently under consideration are Sadeq Larijani, Head of the Judiciary who was born in Iraq; and Ebrahim Raisi, a former presidential candidate and holy shrine custodian. Both follow Khamenei’s hard line on “the export of the Revolution” – the religious cover for Iran’s violent expansionist drive. Raisi was the supreme leader’s loyal student, whereas Larijani is more independent. Both are young enough, in their fifties, to confront the swelling tide of young Iranians averse to clerical rule.

Khamenei’s choice of successor must be approved by the increasingly powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which not only owns Iran’s oil economy and controls its nuclear and missile programs, but holds levers of power in Beirut, led a coup attempt in Bahrain and campaigned in Syria for Bashar Assad’s survival and, currently, to establish Iran as a permanent presence in that country.DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources report that if Ayatollah Khamenei can’t find the candidate with the right qualities to succeed him and continue his path, he may turn to the Guards. In that case, the belligerent Al Qods chief Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani has a real chance of becoming the next omnipotent supreme ruler of Iran.

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