Iran’s Supreme Leader May be Succeeded by Son

With Iran swamped by its serious economic problems, regime leaders are obsessed with choosing the next supreme leader after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leaves power.
Even though Khamenei is struggling with several sicknesses and has had at least two operations, it is not certain that he is not well enough or that he will be leaving the political arena any time soon. But Khamenei himself clearly hinted at such a possibility in a speech given on Novruz, the Persian new year holiday (March 21st).
Khamenei stated that the selection of his successor should not be based on personal or sectarian considerations, but rather on whether the candidate is the most suitable person to serve Islam. There was nothing new in his statement, although it hinted at the supreme leader’s declining health. At the beginning of January, in a meeting with members of the Council of Experts (which is empowered to select his successor), he said “when the time comes to choose the next leader, put all of your selfish considerations aside and only seek the truth.”
In several months, Khamenei will be 78. People of his age in Iran are considered to be very old, although many clerics have lived until almost 90.
The supreme leader was the target of an assassination attempt in 1981 when a bomb exploded near him as he was leading a large-scale Friday prayer service, wounding his shoulder and chest and leaving his right hand paralyzed. In 1989, following the death of the Islamic republic’s founding leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he was chosen by the Council of Experts as successor, with the active help of his main political ally at the time, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who would later serve as president.
At the end of 2014, Khamenei underwent an operation for the removal of cancerous tumors. Before both operations he gave a farewell speech to the nation without hiding his sickness. But during the last several months, knowledgeable sources in Iran have reported that the tumors are metastating. The swelling of Khamenei’s face seen clearly in his recent public appearances may be a result of intensive chemotherapy.
It is hard to estimate how long the supreme leader has to live, but there are sources who claim that he is intentionally exaggerating the seriousness of his condition in order to expose his rivals and competitors, and rid himself of them before he leaves the arena. Last month he gave several long speeches during which his face did not show any signs of fatigue. He usually makes speeches while holding a piece of paper with the main points, but generally speaks clearly, in an authoritative tone, and without prepared remarks.
Under the country’s constitution, the supreme leader must have two main qualities: the highest level of religious scholarship, and political and social leadership and analytical skills.
The supreme leader’s former ally Rafsanjani meets the two conditions. He is a seasoned and experienced politician who bears the title of ayatollah since 2011. But in recent years Khamenei has systematically and cruelly attempted to destroy Rafsanjani’s political future with the help of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In his most recent speeches, the supreme leader has denounced his former ally and even called him a traitor. Rafsanjani Twittered last week that “The world of tomorrow is a world of dialogue, not missiles.” It was a rebuttal of Khamenei’s statement just several days earlier that “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors.” He also claimed that countries cannot enter negotiations without strong military power based on missiles, so the international pressure on Iran over its missile development program should be rejected.
DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources report there are two other figures who appear to meet the requirements for succeeding Khamenei: Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, and Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijiani. However, their candidacies are problematic.
The first problem is that they were both born outside of Iran. Shahroudi’s original family name was “Araki” due to being born in Iraq. His title during the first two years of Iran’s Islamic regime was “leader of the supreme Islamic council of the revolution in Iraq”, and he claimed at that time that Saddam Hussein should be deposed so he could assume power. Shahroudi served for ten years as head of Iran’s judicial authority, had great influence and was known for harsh acts of repression.
The second possible candidate, Larijiani, was born in the city of Najef in Iraq, although he claims he was born in the city of Larijian. Today he is chairman of the judicial authority and wields substantial influence within the regime. He often makes statements against the US and supports the policies of Khamenei. He operated the country’s strongest repression mechanism, and if he wins the struggle over the leadership he could turn the clock back to Iran’s worst period of repression.
It is important to emphasize that the Iranian constitution does not bar someone born outside the country’s borders from becoming supreme leader, unlike the requirements for the presidency, although the fact that Shahroudi and Larijiani were born in Iraq does not help their chances.
Beside these candidates, both fast approaching their 80s, there are two young clerics waiting in the wings: Sayyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the founder of the Islamic republic, and Mojitaba Khamenei, the supreme leader’s son.
Khomeini enjoys the support of several senior clerics, but Khamenei’s camp and the Revolutionary Guards see him as an enemy and have prevented him from being elected to the Council of Experts.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian experts, the candidate with the best chances is the junior Khamenei. Although he is very young and is lacking in religious knowledge as well as experience in dealing with national matters, he receives massive support from the Revolutionary Guards. He manages his father’s office and is involved in all repression against opponents, supports the increase of the military budget, and strongly backs Iran’s missile and nuclear development programs. The junior Khamenei acted behind the scenes to convince his father to reject last year’s nuclear agreement with Western powers.
As for how a young man lacking the title of ayatollah could assume power after his father’s passing, our sources estimate that the Revolutionary Guards could claim that there is an immediate threat to national security due to the possibility of an outbreak of rioting. This claim would enable them to demand the Council of Experts appoints a temporary leader capable of dealing “wisely” with the unrest. We estimate that senior Revolutionary Guards commanders will individually threaten all 83 members of the council to vote for the young Khamenei as an emergency measure. This “temporary” appointment will eventually become permanent.
If this occurs, Iran is likely to continue its armament programs, its interference in the internal affairs of all other countries in the region, its calls for the destruction of Israel, and its slogan of “Death to America” for many years to come.

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