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Ebrahim Raisi, “butcher of Tehran” sworn in as Iranian President

What happened: Yesterday Ebrahim Raisi was sworn into office as Iran’s 8th President since the Islamic Republic’s founding in 1979.

  • Whilst most Western nations stayed away from the ceremony, the Deputy Secretary General of the EU’s External Action Service, Enrique Mora was in attendance, seated behind Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Secretary General of Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic jihad Ziyad al-Nakhalah, and Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem.
  • In his speech President Raisi insist that the Iranian nuclear programme was peaceful and called for international sanctions to be lifted.
  • UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters yesterday that the UK’s door is “ajar” for diplomacy with Iran but it will impose a cost if Tehran’s new president continues with attacks against Western targets in the region. Secretary Raab described the inauguration as a “crossroads” moment for the Islamic Republic.
  • The UK government has accused Tehran of being behind the drone attack last week of a British-operated tanker off Oman, killing a UK and Romanian national. Whilst Secretary Raab has vowed a “concerted response” following the attack against the Mercer Street tanker, he declined to say what specific actions would be taken, nor if it might include a military element.
  • “If they continue down the track of harrying or attacking shipping in the Middle East, if they continue destabilising activities through their proxies, if they continue to row back from their nuclear commitments … then we will apply cost, we will hold them to account” Raab said.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday the country is prepared to engage militarily directly with Iran. Asked in an interview whether Israel was ready to strike in Iran if need be, Gantz responded simply, “Yes”.
  • In a briefing to diplomats on Wednesday, Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid named Saeed Ara Jani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) UAV command and Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Air Force, as behind dozens of terror attacks in the region employing UAVs and missiles, including last week’s deadly drone attack.

Context: Raisi faces several domestic challenges early on into his presidency, including a fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, protests over water shortages and labour disputes, severe power outages, and continued economic hardship.

  • The growing shortages of water and electricity have sparked a series of demonstrations in Iran. After about a week in which most of the demonstrations were concentrated in Khuzestan in early July, the protest spread to other cities in Iran, including the capital Tehran.
  • Raisi is a cleric and former ultra-conservative judge who is widely accused of personally overseeing the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners, as part of was known in the late 1980s as the “death commission”. He is under sanction by the US for the abuse of human rights.
  • Iran’s economy is severely weakened due to US sanctions. Consumer prices have increased 44 per cent over the past year compared to the previous year and unemployment stands around 10 per cent, and more than 23 per cent for the youth between 15 and 25.
  • Whilst Raisi has publicly supported the revival of the JCPOA nuclear deal, so long as it is within the guidelines established by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he said in a post-election conference: “We will not tie the Iranian people’s interests to the nuclear deal,” underscoring Khamenei’s preference for “neutralising” the effects of sanctions rather than relying on the West for their removal.
  • Raisi has also emphasised that the JCPOA would not form the core of his policy agenda. Instead, he is likely to prioritise strengthening domestic economic capacities rather than integrating Iran’s economy with Western businesses and financial institutions.
  • Unlike his predecessor, President Raisi will enjoy greater cooperation from the other power centres in the country, including the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards.

Looking ahead: Raisi now has two weeks to present his cabinet.  The key will then be the position he takes regarding the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna.

  • Later today the UN Security Council is expected to convene a discussion on Iran’s attack on the commercial ship Mercer Street.  The closed door session was initiated by British Ambassador Barbara Woodward.
  • Raisi, is also the lead candidate to one day replace the 82-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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