The Platform

Ebrahim Raisi in 2016. (Wikimedia)

Following Raisi’s death, Iran faces a fork in the road. It can either embrace moderation or the status quo.  It will probably opt for the status quo.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash along with the country’s foreign minister on May 19, sparking debate on the future direction of Iran’s foreign policy and the extent of Raisi’s influence. Many analysts have overestimated his role in shaping Iran’s foreign policy.

For instance, Syeda Alizeh Ahmed, in her article “The future of Pak-Iran relations after Ebrahim Raisi,” overemphasized Raisi’s impact, stating: “The death of Ebrahim Raisi injects a substantial degree of uncertainty into the future of Pakistan-Iran relations. Economic collaborations, regional geopolitical strategies, and security cooperation all stand at a crossroads. The new Iranian leadership’s approach will be critical in determining whether these relations deepen or deteriorate. It is imperative for both nations to engage in proactive diplomacy and leverage their shared interests to navigate this period of transition. Building on the foundation laid during Raisi’s tenure, with an emphasis on dialogue and pragmatic cooperation, could help mitigate the uncertainties and foster a stable and mutually beneficial relationship.”

However, the reality is that Iran is an authoritarian state where the supreme leader, or Rahbar, not the president, dominates foreign policy.

Peter Beaumont, in his article “Iran’s supreme leader sets its hardline foreign policies: expect more of the same,” accurately noted: “Foreign policy in Iran – including on the key nuclear issue – is set by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the supreme national security council. Raisi and Abdollahian represented, in different ways, the enactment of the hardline policies that have come to the fore since Raisi was manoeuvred into the president’s office in 2021 with substantial assistance from Khamenei and the council of guardians, a powerful decision-making body.”

Previously, Iran achieved a significant milestone by improving relations with its erstwhile rival, Saudi Arabia. Two important developments followed: first, President Raisi’s recent visit to Pakistan, which, following tit-for-tat missile strikes, symbolized a normalization of relations between the previously strained neighbors; second, Iran’s engagement in a similar missile exchange with another sworn enemy, Israel.

Currently, Iran is embroiled in conflict with the United States, a rivalry spanning decades. The U.S. has sanctioned hundreds of Iranian individuals and entities linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and groups such as Hezbollah, Houthis, and Hamas. In April, the U.S. and UK imposed a new round of sanctions following Iran’s unprecedented attacks on Israel. These sanctions have led Pakistan to cautiously develop its relationship with Iran.

Given these developments, Iran’s foreign policy is unlikely to change significantly in the near future. Only a major regional event, such as a peace deal between Hamas and Israel, could potentially alter the status quo, though such an outcome remains improbable.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.