Conspiracy theories rife on social media about Raisi’s death

With or without Raisi, Israel still sees Iran as an existential threat

By News Desk
May 21, 2024
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (late) seen in this undated photo.— AFP/file

ISLAMABAD: After President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran was killed in a helicopter crash, Israeli officials quickly dismissed suggestions that they were behind his death, which Iranian state news media said was the result of “technical failure.”


In various foreign newspapers and other publications, analysts said on Monday that Israel, despite being one of Iran’s biggest foes, saw little strategic benefit from Raisi’s death and did not expect Iran to change its posture toward Israel as a result.

Israeli experts said his replacement was expected to maintain Iran’s stance toward Israel, and that the real power in Tehran lay with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

With or without Raisi, Israel still sees Iran as an existential threat, both because of its efforts to build a nuclear program as well as its support for groups that are hostile to Israel, including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

However, Israel was unlikely to have killed Raisi, because he, unlike experienced scientists and generals, is ultimately so replaceable, according to Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli professor, who teaches Iranian studies at Reichman University in Israel.

But conspiracy theories have sprung to life on social media – and some parts of Iranian state television are nurturing them. It did not take long for the first accusations of foul play to appear on Iranian state television following the announcement that Ebrahim Raisi had died in a helicopter crash.

Foad Izadi, an analyst on state television, said: “When a helicopter faces an accident, it might be caused by a technical issue or maybe weather conditions – but there are also other scenarios.” Referring to Israel and its powerful intelligence service, he added: “We have an issue in the republic of Azerbaijan and that is the presence of the Zionists and Mossad in that region. It will be investigated. We have respect for our neighbours but we should not get targeted from their territories.”

The question now emerges of whether the Iranian state will accept the narrative of an accident or promote the idea of some kind of assassination. After all, Raisi’s crash comes just weeks after Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel, bringing their shadow war out into the open following the Oct 7 Hamas attack. Speaking to ABC Australia, Adel Abdel Ghafar, director of foreign policy and security at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, said it was unlikely that Israel would have “attempted such a move like this.”

“This would be a direct act of war likely to provoke a severe response from Iran, and Israel’s strategy has always been attacking Iran covertly, militarily and so on. And military targets rather than political leaders,” he said.

“But if there is some sort of external power,” Ghafar added, “then this tinderbox can potentially explode.” Elsewhere on social media, some users have claimed that the US “believes” that Raisi was assassinated. This is not supported by evidence and appears to be merely engagement farming, a technique commonly used on social media in the wake of global news events to attract viewers or audiences to a channel, even with unsupported or phony claims.

Experts believe Ebrahim Raisi was one of most important persons of Iran, as he was not only president of the country but also a likely candidate to succeed the elderly Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. A former judiciary chief, he was elected president in June 2021 and was poised to stand for re-election for a second four-year term next year. His victory marked a major win for Iran’s conservative elite, which has increasingly consolidated power in recent years, enhancing the influence of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In an address delivered as the search and rescue effort for Raisi and his entourage was underway on Sunday, Khamenei said that “the nation doesn’t need to be worried or anxious, as the administration of the country will not be disrupted at all.”

The cause of the crash—which also killed Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, and others—is pending investigation. “Raisi’s death would create a succession crisis in Iran,” Karim Sadjapour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, as the anchors on state television donned black. “He and Mojtaba Khamenei—son of the 85-year-old Supreme Leader—are the only talked-about candidates for succession. In Iran’s conspiratorial political culture, few will believe Raisi’s death was accidental.” Raisi made his career as an enforcer, serving as prosecutor in a variety of provinces, and demonstrating his commitment to the revolution in his country.