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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 20 MAY 2024

Iranian president missing after helicopter crash; Netanyahu’s coalition secure, say analysts

Iranian president missing after helicopter crash; Netanyahu’s coalition secure, say analysts
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is missing after a helicopter in which he was travelling crashed in dense fog near the city of Jolfa, on the border with Azerbaijan on Sunday. (Photo: Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Getty Images)

Rescue teams were searching into the night to try to locate Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi after his helicopter crashed on his way back from a visit to the country’s northwest.

Analysts on Sunday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, with 64 parliamentary seats out of 120, remained secure, despite Netanyahu seemingly being isolated by his two senior deputies, both former top generals.

Israel denied it was committing genocide in Gaza after South Africa filed a request at the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to stop what it called the destruction of the Palestinian enclave.

Iranian president missing after helicopter crash in dense fog

Rescue teams were searching into the night to try to locate Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi after his helicopter crashed on his way back from a visit to the country’s northwest.

There was dense fog in the region, making conditions difficult for search teams, state media said, without giving a direct cause for the incident on Sunday. Iran’s government spokesperson, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, said late in the evening on X that there were “no new updates” and that the country was grappling with a “difficult and complicated situation.”

Finding the president’s helicopter “could take time” due to difficult weather conditions, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on TV. An aerial search was “impossible”, Iranian TV said, after at least five hours of the hunt on the ground.

Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric in his 60s who won Iran’s presidential election in 2021, has been seen as a favourite to eventually succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the Islamic Republic’s top authority.

The incident comes at a time of turmoil in the Middle East over the war in Gaza between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union. It has edged Iran and Israel close to all-out conflict and led other Tehran-supported groups, including the Houthis in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq, to attack US bases and commercial ships in the Red Sea.

Raisi’s air fleet consisted of three helicopters with high-ranking officials including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. Amirabdollahian was believed to be on board Raisi’s aircraft at the time.

Iranian television aired live footage of scores of ambulances amid heavy rain and fog. A reporter, stationed near the rescue teams, mentioned the challenges in reaching the crash site, citing impassable roads due to mud and the remote nature of the area. Aerial searches using helicopters and drones were impossible due to the adverse weather conditions, he said.

State television broadcast live footage from the country’s holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Raisi’s birthplace, showing pilgrims praying for Raisi. Others believed to be on board Raisi’s helicopter included the governor of East Azerbaijan province and the supreme leader’s representative in the city of Tabriz, Iranian media said.

Earlier on Sunday, Raisi met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a jointly developed dam on the border between the two countries. The incident occurred while Raisi was returning from Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

Israel’s war Cabinet in turmoil, but Netanyahu seen as secure

It certainly appeared crucial. Benny Gantz, ramrod straight and facing the cameras with gravity, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shift course on the Gaza war or he’d quit the three-man war Cabinet. Israel, he said, needed “a government that will win the people’s trust.”

Coming days after the other war Cabinet member, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, bitterly accused Netanyahu of failing to have a postwar plan, it seemed that Netanyahu was being isolated by his two senior deputies, both former top generals, and Israel was headed toward a political crisis.

But analysts on Sunday said Netanyahu’s governing coalition, with 64 parliamentary seats out of 120, remained secure. Even if Gantz carries out his threat to resign by June 8 — not a certainty — little is likely to change in the short to medium term, they said. The war Cabinet might collapse but Netanyahu would continue to rule with his far-right partners.

“Gantz’s chances of overthrowing the government are slim,” said Mazal Mualem, who’s written a recent political biography of Netanyahu. “There is almost no chance that members of Netanyahu’s Likud party will rebel against him, given the political cost. The second way is through massive public protest. But public sentiment isn’t there. Gantz’s move was a mistake.”

Nadav Strauchler, a political consultant, agreed, saying, “The power remains with Netanyahu. Gantz made a mistake to give him three weeks. If you’re going to shoot, don’t talk about it, shoot.”

All that said, if five Likud legislators do rebel or if Ultra-Orthodox coalition partners walk out over court-enforced efforts to draft their young men, Netanyahu would be in trouble and elections may result. And his extremist partners could push him to adopt policies that would lead to massive anti-government demonstrations and objections from Washington, either of which could lead to change.

Gantz (64), who came in from the opposition to join the Cabinet after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 and abducting 250, helped plan and run the subsequent war in Gaza. The crisis created an uneasy unity among adversaries.

In the early weeks, all three members, dressed in black, would hold joint news conferences. Top US officials, including President Joe Biden, came to Israel and joined in Cabinet meetings to plot out how to stop Hamas and other Iranian-backed enemies of Israel from being able to attack again in such a manner.

Half a year later, the picture is very different. Israel says it’s killed 13,000 Hamas fighters, reduced its missile arsenal and destroyed numerous weapons depots and strategic tunnels. But neither the militia nor its political structure is destroyed. Hamas’ top leaders remain in hiding. In negotiations to trade hostages for Palestinian prisoners, Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union, is acting quite confident.

Meanwhile, much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, its 2.3 million inhabitants are facing disease and hunger, and 35,000 people have been killed, according to Hamas officials who don’t distinguish between fighters and civilians. The Biden administration is anxious and shares many of Gantz’s concerns.

Gaza war is ‘tragic’, but it is not genocide, Israel tells UN court

Israel denied it was committing genocide in Gaza after South Africa filed a request at the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to stop what it called the destruction of the Palestinian enclave.

“This war, like all wars, is tragic and terrible for Israelis and Palestinians and it has exacted a terrible human price. But it is not a genocide,” Israel’s lawyer Gilad Noam said on Friday at the United Nations court in The Hague. South Africa’s “fourth request for provisional measures is replete with blatant distortions”, he said. “Armed conflict is not a synonym for genocide.”

South Africa earlier this month asked for an urgent order from the court seeking protection for Palestinians in Gaza from “further, severe and irreparable harm” of their human rights due to Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. South African legal representatives claimed on Thursday that “Israel’s aim of destroying Gaza from the map is being realised.”

The verdict is expected in the coming days or weeks although the court hasn’t yet announced when it will deliver a ruling. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    He didn’t survive he passed on.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Butcher of Tehran
    Iranian women must be devastated.

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Gaza Health Ministry reporting that along with Raisi, at least 500 women and 1000 children were on the helicopter – along with 12 journalists, 17 aid workers and 25 surgeons

    • Luke S says:

      Mordechai, you take every opportunity to label anyone who doesn’t agree with the Israeli government’s actions as “antisemitic”. Therefore you must think that Israel is for Jewish people only, or that Jewish people have more importance than others there – if a criticism of the government it automatically a criticism of Jewish people in general.
      Do you think that is a valid government policy in any country in 2024? How do you think that affects the decisions made in this war, since the majority of Gazans are not Jewish? Do you consider yourself or the Israeli government racist?

    • Luke S says:

      In other news, the Israeli delegation to the ICJ based all of it’s claims on information that the Israeli government has supplied, without providing a shred of evidence, has not allowed any independent observers into Gaza to verify anything, even though allowing that is one of SA’s requests in it’s application to the court. If there’s nothing to hide and only the truth is being told, why not allow independent observers in?

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Luke, regarding events in Iran today, google Arvin Nathaniel Ghahremani. Coincidence?

    • Luke S says:

      Mordechai, regarding events today google “Israel bombs Iranian embassy in Damascus”. Coincidence?

    • Luke S says:

      And this is my last interaction with you, a self-proclaimed racist. The world doesn’t need more people who think people of a certain ethnicity are more important than others, and supports a war against other peoples, then denies the genocidal intent. History will judge you sir.

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        I proudly proclaimed myself as a Zionist. You’ve chose the other labels, slurs and accusations. As for our interactions – I plan on continuing, as well as pointing out your many mis-informed, prejudiced and thinly researched opinions where I find them on these pages.

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