Photo: Reuters

Did Khamenei empower son over health concerns?

There has been rising speculation as to whether Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may have relegated rule to his son Mojtaba Khamenei over health concerns.

Some users on social media claimed Khamenei has already passed away.

Iranian journalist Momahad Ahwaze posted an Arabic language message on Twitter Saturday reporting the alleged transfer of power, adding that sources close to the 81-year-old leader are “very concerned” about him. Ahwaze also said that a slated meeting on Friday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “was canceled due to the deterioration of Khamenei’s health condition.”

The semi official Fars news agency today published a rather mild denial of the reports, quoting a tweet by an official who worked in an office publishing Khamenei’s work. “By the grace of God and with the good prayers of devotees, the Gentleman (Ayatollah Khamenei) is in good health and is busy vigorously carrying out his plan according to his routine,” said Mehdi Fazaeli.

A transfer of power to the Ayatollah’s 51-year-old son, Sayyid Mojtaba Hosseini Khamenei, would have contravened the Iranian constitution. In case of death or incapacitation, Iran’s interim governance would be carried out by a provisional leadership council by the president, chief justice and a Guardian Council member until the selection of a new supreme leader by the Assembly of Experts, an 88 member group of Islamic clerics.

Khamenei has been the second leader of the Islamic Republic, having assumed office after the 1989 death of its founder Ruhollah Khomenei.

This is not the first time rumors of his ill health or demise have circulated. Khamenei issued a statement in January 2007 declaring that “enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumors about death and health to demoralize the Iranian nation” after several weeks during he failed to make any public appearances.

While state media admitted in September 2014 that Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in what was described as a “routine operation,” the French Le Figaro agency published a 2015 report citing Western intelligence officials who claimed Khamenei had State 4 prostate cancer discovered a decade prior, with only about “two years left to live.”

Ahwaze also expressed suspicion Khamenei is suffering from prostate cancer. The Iranian journalist gained credibility earlier this year among his wide following on Twitter by revealing the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in the Islamic Republic despite public denials.

Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, long viewed as the Supreme Leader’s “heir apparent,” has been charged with directing several of Iran’s critical security and intelligence divisions.

The potential shift in leadership comes amid Iran’s vow to retaliate for the 27 November assassination of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen, of which it has accused Israel of committing. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has warned it will wreak “severe revenge and punishment.”

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency cited IRGC Deputy Commander Ali Fadavi as saying Fakhrizadeh’s killing was carried out remotely with artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a “satellite-controlled smart system,” that had been activated after an “advanced camera had zoomed in on him.”

Israel has declined to comment on Fahrkrizadeh’s death, but the National Security Council issued an advisory for citizens to avoid travel to certain countries and diplomatic compounds abroad to remain vigilant against potential Iranian attacks.