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Iran President’s Death A Spark In Tinderbox: Geopolitical Impact Explained

As Iran mourns its President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and other officials killed in a helicopter crash, the world will be closely watching the aftermath and the implications on geopolitical equations.

The crash, which took place in northwest Iran, comes at a very critical time as far as the West Asia region is concerned. For the past seven months, Israel has waged a war in Gaza that was triggered by a Hamas attack on Israeli cities. Tehran has been repeatedly accused of backing Hezbollah in opening the Lebanon front against Tel Aviv.

A major escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran came last month when Iran launched a volley of missiles at Israel, most of which were intercepted by its Iron Dome aerial defense system.

The attack, Iran said, was in retaliation for the bombing of its embassy building in Syria by suspected Israeli warplanes. Tel Aviv responded with a limited attack on a missile defense system in Iran’s Isfahan province that also hosts a uranium enrichment plant.

Against this backdrop, the helicopter crash that killed the Iranian president is bound to spark a wave of speculation. So far, the reports in state media have referred to the crash as an accident, but an official word from the Iranian government is awaited.

Anything that points to foul play may escalate tensions in the sensitive region.

Iran’s equations with other countries are likely to remain the same, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling the shots. The government has already said it will operate without disruption.

The US, a strong ally of Israel, is yet to respond to the news of Raisi’s death, but earlier reports had said President Joe Biden had been briefed about the situation.

 

US-Iran Relations and Regional Impact

The past few years have seen critical developments in US-Iran ties over Tehran’s nuclear push. In 2018, then US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) — an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program — and restored harsh sanctions on Tehran.

This prompted Iran to violate the agreement’s nuclear limits. After 63-year-old Raisi took over in 2021, he took a tough stance in negotiations, seeing a chance to win broad relief from US sanctions in return for modest curbs on its increasingly advanced technology.

The West Asia conflict has raised tensions. Despite its strong ties with Israel, the US has of late tried to de-escalate the situation, apparently over the rising human cost of the war in Gaza.

Biden went as far as threatening to stop arms supplies to Israel if it invaded the Gaza city of Rafah, prompting a sharp response from Israel. Reports had also claimed that top Biden administration officials were in indirect talks with their Iranian counterparts to avoid escalating regional attacks. With Raisi’s death threatening to further destabilize the region, the US will look to ensure peace in the volatile region.

 

The India Position

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he was “deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise of Dr. Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran”. “His contribution to strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Iran. India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow,” he posted on X.

The crash that killed Raisi comes a week after New Delhi signed a contract with Iran to operate the Chabahar port, aimed at expanding trade with Central Asia. India had first proposed this plan back in 2003, but US sanctions on Iran over its suspected nuclear program slowed down the port’s development.

The pact drew a sharp response from the US, with Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel saying that “anyone considering business deals with Iran” needs to be aware of “the potential risk of sanctions”.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar responded that the port would benefit the entire region and a narrow view should not be taken on it. “If you look at even the US’s own attitude to Chabahar in the past, the US has been appreciative of the fact that Chabahar has a larger relevance. We will work at it,” he said.

Significantly, India has strong relations with Israel too, and Tel Aviv had appreciated New Delhi’s support after the Hamas attacks. The death of Raisi, therefore, adds a layer of complexity to India’s diplomatic efforts in the region. It must balance its relationships with both Iran and Israel amidst heightened tensions.

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