Iran File

The Iran File is an analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iran File: Regime Infighting and Supreme Leader Succession

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]

To receive the Iran File via email, please subscribe here.

Iran's political system is evolving as principlists and moderates clash in preparation for the death and succession of the supreme leader. Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s health is declining rapidly. Principlists are increasingly influential and seek to capitalize on regime infighting to increase their power. Iran’s hardline Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi and his allies may gain more influence in the wake of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhri Zadeh’s assassination.

Raisi and his allies still face viable opponents, however, including in Raisi’s bid to succeed Khamenei. An influential Iranian cleric, Mohammad Yazdi, died on December 9. He was a member of the Assembly of Experts, the body that chooses the supreme leader. Yazdi's death may open the field to several younger clerics to gain influence, such as Sadegh Amoli Larijani and Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ahmad Khatami.

Recent Critical Threats Project publications:

Iranian hardliners turn nuclear scientist’s assassination to their political advantage

Principlist members of Iran’s regime may seize on the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist to weaken moderate rivals in the latest round of political infighting. Likely Israeli operatives assassinated top nuclear scientist and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhri Zadeh in broad daylight on November 27. Regime leadership is discussing Fakhri Zadeh’s assassination as a serious security failure.

Moderate and more conservative elements of regime leadership are attempting to capitalize on Fakhri Zadeh’s killing as part of regime infighting. Principlist officials, notably Judiciary Chief and supreme leader–hopeful Ebrahim Raisi, have previously seized opportunities to weaken political allies by redirecting public discontent and even imprisoning rivals with ties to the Rouhani administration. Raisi may again politicize arrests under the guise of security breaches related to Fakhri Zadeh’s death. Attacks on the Rouhani administration may strengthen security organizations led by a hardline coalition with ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, himself a candidate to succeed his father.

Read the full article by Kyra Rauschenbach here.

A quick look at supreme leader succession

Potential supreme leader successors are hardliners and likely to pursue policies similar to Khamenei’s, if not more aggressive. The death of senior Iranian cleric Mohammad Yazdi on December 9 will likely facilitate efforts by younger clerics to shape the selection of the next supreme leader. Yazdi’s death is a boon to several younger clerics, including Sadegh Amoli Larijani and Interim Tehran Friday Prayer Leader Ahmad Khatami. Larijani and Khatami could leverage Yazdi’s death to increasingly influence the fight over supreme leadership. Neither individual is a likely candidate currently, but the succession struggle is opaque and may change unexpectedly.

Read the full article by Nicholas Carl here.

Arrow down red
Dec '20
Nov '20