July 2024

Leadership vacuum

Sir

As a member of the Iranian diaspora, I read Yvonne Gill’s piece with interest (‘Opening doors to reform?’, June 2024 edition).

Without doubt, the sudden death of Ebrahim Raisi’s last month – described as a ‘tragic accident’ by the state – has left a power vacuum, just at the very time when Iran needs stability and strong leadership.

Appointed as President in 2021, in what many deemed to be a strategic move to position him as successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Raisi’s rise to power was as much about his unwavering loyalty to the ruling party and record of brutal suppression as it was political acumen or personal charisma. And so this makes the task of choosing a successor fraught with difficulty, as the decision is not merely about appointing a new president but also about shaping the future of the regime and the Velayat-e Faqih system.

With Ayatollah Khomeini’s son, Mojtaba Khomeini, as the only credible candidate to take over the reins, this potential succession will justifiably raise concerns about an unaccountable, hereditary transfer of power, undermining the very principles that justified the toppling of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

If Khomeini opts to impose his chosen candidate and exclude others, it will significantly affect voter turnout and reinforce the belief among many Iranians that true change can only come about through revolution. Conversely, allowing candidates from the reformist fringes to stand, as he has occasionally done in the past, might provide a veneer of legitimacy at such a critical time.

A third possibility would be that an even more extreme hard-liner, consistent with the regime’s strategy since the 2020 parliamentary elections, will be chosen.

Whatever the outcome, the forthcoming elections will serve as a crucial indicator of the regime’s approach to governance and its willingness to engage with demands for reform.

Behrouz Darbandi

London, England

Misplaced aid

Amit Agnihotri’s article (‘War or Peace?’, June 2024 edition) is a timely reminder of the consequences of US aid in global hotspots.

Taking Israel as a case in point, Washington has moved within six months from a position of categorically refusing to attach conditions to its aid package, to pausing a shipment of large bombs to ‘deliver a message’ to Netanyahu.

This change in attitude, while no doubt politically significant, is of no practical consequence to Israel’s military capability in Gaza ­– Hamas has already lost most of its combat power following Israeli attacks. Nor is it likely to lead to a comprehensive review of its aid policy or address Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza.

While encouraging that Biden has recognised the repercussions of Israel’s invasion of Rafah, with more than 35,000 Palestinians already killed by Israel’s war machine (not accounting for those still lying under the rubble of their former homes), the damage has been done and so whatever measures the US does or doesn’t take will be a case of too little, too late.

What is not up for discussion though is that this huge loss of life is due in no small part to Washington’s colossal military aid package to Israel and to giving this occupying power carte blanche to ignore the Geneva Conventions. 

While Rafah could be the catalyst that makes the US rethink its unconditional support  of Israel, I doubt this will be the case, as for all the talk about American public opinion shifting away from Israel, it has not yet reached a critical mass. Yet while no administration should base its opinions purely on public opinion, dismissing the views of a growing and unprecedented number of Americans is unwise, especially in an election year.

Ashraf Fawzi

Amman, Jordan

Open options in the Indian Ocean

Thank you to Mr Amit Agnihotri for his astute piece on China’s expansion into the Indian Ocean region, and the importance of that region for energy and other types of security. Ultimately, while countries such as Sri Lanka have had bad experiences with China over ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, and India understandably wants to keep an eye on the ‘Chinese checkers’ in the Indian Ocean, all nations will inevitably incline towards those that will help them most economically, or at least keep all options open.

 

SR Perera

Sheffield

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