Photo: Reuters

Israel warns against Raisi win

Israel has condemned Iran’s election of Ebrahim Raisi, saying he will be the Islamic Republic’s most extreme president yet who has committed to quickly advancing its disputed nuclear program.

As the favored candidate of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Chief Justice Raisi won 17.9 million of the 28.9 million ballots cast in in Friday’s four-man race, in a record low turn-out of just 48.8% of eligible voters.

Hoping to boost its legitimacy, the Ayatollah regime pushed citizens to participate, but simmering anger over economic hardships and curbs on freedoms kept many Iranians at home. While Khamenei insisted the turnout displayed the clerical establishment‘s popularity, more than half of eligible voters were too dissatisfied or appeared to have heeded calls by hundreds of dissidents, at home and abroad, to boycott the vote, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderates and conservatives from competing.

The United States slapped sanctions on Raisi in November 2019 for overseeing the execution of thousands of political dissidents and prisoners in the 1980s and 1990s and during violent suppression of unrest in 2009.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett used the start of his first weekly Cabinet meeting to condemn the election of Iran’s President-Elect, whose whose full name is Sayyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati.

“Of all the people that Khamenei could have chosen, he chose the ‘Hangman of Tehran,’ the man infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the Death Committees, which executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years,” said Bennett.

The election comes amid talks between Iran and 6 world powers to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, efforts to which Israel is opposed.

Iran has long threatened to annihilate the Jewish State. Israel, which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, has long condemned the JCPOA as too weak to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring atomic weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Bennet called on “world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and to understand who they are doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers.”

“A regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he insisted, speaking in fluent English, stressing that, “Israel’s position will not change on this.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Raisi’s election “is evidence of growing Iranian extremism and aggression.”

“All offensive options are on the table,” stressed Israel’s top defense chief, saying that, “Israel will continue to develop the necessary means to protect itself from any threat…. in tandem with our American friends and all of our partners across the world.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter that, “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians. He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”

A separate statement from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Raisi’s election should “prompt grave concern among the international community.”

“More than ever, Iran’s nuclear program must be halted immediately, rolled back entirely and stopped indefinitely,” said the statement, adding that, “Iran’s ballistic missile program must be dismantled and its global terror campaign vigorously countered by a broad international coalition.”

The Secretary General of the Amnesty International human rights group, Agnès Callamard, called Raisi’s victory “a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

“We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction,” she added in a statement.

A US State Department spokesperson said on Friday: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.

Meanwhile, Iran’s regional allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas welcomed Raisi’s win.

“We congratulate the Islamic Republic of Iran for the success of the democratic process, the holding of the presidential election and the winning of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s President and we wish the Islamic Republic of Iran, its leadership, its government and its people progress and prosperity,” said Hamas Spokesperson Hazem Qassem, underscoring that, “Iran has always been a fundamental and a real supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian resistance.”

The 60-year-old President-Elect will take office on 3 August from outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

Many pro-reform Iranians fear Raisi’s presidency could usher in even more repression.

“I am scared. I don’t want to go back to jail again. I am certain that any kind of dissent will not be tolerated,” said Hamidreza, 31, who declined to give his full name while speaking to Reuters. He was jailed for participating in unrest in 2019 that broke out over spikes in fuel prices that quickly turned anti-regime protests.

Analysts say the election win could increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming Supreme Leader in 1989.

In related developments, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant has closed.

“It has been temporarily shutdown since yesterday for technical overhaul which will continue for a few days,” an official told state TV.

The country’s semi-official Fars News Agency carried reports that the Atomic Energy Organization said the shut-down was due to a “technical defect” but that it would be reconnected to the national electricity grid in the coming days. That explanation was echoed by the Deputy Coordinator of the Iran Power Transmission, Generation and Distribution Company, which said that the reopening after “technical repairs” would take place in 3-4 days.

Bushehr was the site of a major fire last month; the latest in a series of mysterious blazes and explosions at or near many nuclear installations across Iran since mid-2020.