Last Friday, June 18, less than 50% of Iran’s eligible voters elected Ebrahim Raisi, 60, the country’s hardline judiciary chief, to be its eighth president since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
The election’s results send a powerful message to President Joe Biden and Israel. The fundamentalist rule of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will continue. Raisi is a well-known acolyte of Khamenei. He is often mentioned as Khamenei’s likely successor. Iran is a theocracy. Though Iran holds elections, autocratic power is vested in the supreme leader. He is Iran’s head of state, its highest political and religious authority, and has power over its armed forces, military, judiciary, media and other critical institutions.
Like Iran’s other presidents, Raisi has openly called for extinction of Israel. At a news conference Monday, Raisi made clear that as Iran’s next president he will continue to support Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, all of which are officially designated as terrorist entities by the United States.
Raisi’s election tells President Biden that, barring regime change, Iran’s fundamentalist government will continue for the next four years. Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, is widely viewed as more moderate than Raisi. As a prosecutor in his early 20s, in the early days of Iran’s revolution, Raisi obtained death sentences for tens of thousands of Iranian dissidents.
Recently, U.S. diplomats have been negotiating with Iranian representatives in Vienna to resurrect the 2015 nuclear agreement. President Trump withdrew from the pact in May 2018. Khamenei supports a restoration of the treaty. Why? The reason is simple. The U.S. has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran that have substantially kept Iranian oil off the world market, choking its economy. With a new agreement and the lifting of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s oil revenues will skyrocket. Such developments will provide Iran with billions of dollars that it can transfer to Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. Iran supplied Hamas with thousands of rockets fired at Israel in recent hostilities.
Israel has correctly assessed that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to its existence. The distance between Tehran and Jerusalem is only 969 miles. If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, it could decimate Israel in minutes.
Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is 82. If Raisi becomes Iran’s next supreme leader and has nuclear weapons, will he launch an attack on Israel? The answer to this question is written in the blood of Israelis who perished from Iran’s rockets. The ghosts of tens of thousands of Iranians who fell under Raisi’s death sentences hover over the future of the Middle East and the world.
Though the United States and Israel are close allies, ultimately Israel is responsible for its own survival. So, Israel must consider the strategic implications of Raisi’s election.
Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran will be free to make as much nuclear fuel as it wants as of 2030. Though it might not have actually developed a nuclear bomb, Iran can stockpile the nuclear fuel necessary for rapid development.
At a 2019 rally for commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Raisi vowed to dismember corrupt Iranians.
“We will not only cut off the fingers but chop off the arms of the corrupt,” he said as reported by Iranian newspapers.
“Since the age of 20, he has been issuing execution orders and prison sentences,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an independent organization based in New York.
Israel’s interests call for the highest level of readiness. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett characterized Raisi’s election as “a wake-up call” for Western powers. Haaretz quoted Bennett as saying the United States and other parties to the agreement “should realize who they are dealing with.”
The Begin Doctrine is a fundamental principle of Israel’s national security. Simply put, as enunciated by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel will not permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction that may be used to destroy it.
Raisi’s election must be viewed through the prism of his life experience. He served as a savage prosecutor, revolutionary and unreconstructed fundamentalist. He openly supports Israel’s enemies.
Iran’s new president must be taken seriously. Raisi served notice Monday that if sanctions are lifted, Iran will persist in its hostile actions against Israel.
President Biden should proceed with the utmost caution in dealing with him and in negotiations with Iran.
A version of this editorial appeared in the June 24, 2021, issue of the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston. Reprinted with permission.