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Updated May 19, 2024, 3:29pm EDT
securityMiddle East
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Semafor Signals

Iran’s president is missing following helicopter incident, state media reports

Insights from Al Jazeera, Shephard Media, and Qantana

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Iranian president
WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
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The News

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian are missing after their helicopter suffered a “hard landing” on Sunday.

The condition of those onboard or the craft are unknown, and the circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear. Later reports suggested rescuers may have found the helicopter, Reuters reported, citing state television.

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Earlier on Sunday, Tasnim news agency, a news wire associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, reported that some of the president’s “companions” were able to communicate with authorities, raising the hope of survivors.

State media released video footage of search and rescue teams scrambling to find the helicopter, which went missing in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, but thick fog has complicated the search and rescue effort.

“The region is a bit (rugged) and it’s difficult to make contact. We are waiting for rescue teams to reach the landing site and give us more information,” said interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.

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Several other people were also reportedly on board the helicopter, including an imam and the governor of East Azerbaijan province, according to state media.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameni urged the country to pray for the president’s health, the Associated Press reported.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Raisi’s death could give Israel an advantage in the Middle East

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Source:  
Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism

Various governments — including those with historically contentious relations with Iran — signaled they would support Iran’s rescue efforts, even as Hezbollah stepped up attacks on Israel amid the war in Gaza, a possible sign of Israel’s waning support abroad. Saudi Arabia — which recently gave Israel intelligence on Iran and shot down Iranian drones — said it stood “beside the brotherly Iranian Islamic Republic in these difficult circumstances.” A European Union official, meanwhile, said the bloc would provide satellite support to help locate the helicopter. But if Raisi dies, it could rebalance the region in Israel’s favor, some argued. “If Raisi is indeed dead, this is going to be the biggest victory for Israel in the domain of psychological warfare,” wrote Faran Jeffery, deputy director of the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, a UK-based security think tank.

Iran’s air force faces scrutiny

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Sources:  
Al Jazeera, Shephard Media

Questions about the missing helicopter swirled on social media following the incident. Much of Iran’s air force hardware was procured before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and international sanctions make getting spare parts difficult, Al Jazeera reported. “That’s why such accidents are quite frequent in Iran,” wrote reporter Resul Serdar. But while outdated, Iran’s air force could still strike a significant blow if it were drawn into a war, according to Shephard Media, a defense analytics site. Iranian air force pilots are far better trained than their counterparts in neighboring countries, and the country’s other military branches are set up to coordinate and support an air offensive, Shephard reported.

Disillusioned Iranians could face another election

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Sources:  
IranWire, Qantana

If Raisi were to die, then Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would take his place, until a presidential election could take place within 50 days, according to IranWire. But parliamentary elections earlier this month showcased “a clear indication of growing disillusionment” with the political system, according to Qantana, Deutsche Welle’s Islamic affairs news outlet, and voter turnout was historically low. Raisi’s death would also trigger a “succession crisis” as only he and Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the Ayatollah Khamenei, are likely successors, according to Carnegie Endowment for Peace fellow Karim Sadjadpour. Mojtaba Khamenei is deeply unpopular, and his appointment may trigger “popular unrest,” Sadjadpour wrote.

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