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Why Israel is more concerned over Iran's FM replacement than Raisi's

Israel estimates that the death of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi will not significantly change Tehran’s policies on the region, but the death of Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian could have some consequences.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos on January 17, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — The Israeli assessment following the helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Sunday is that the latter's exit from the scene and the battle over the next foreign minister could actually affect the region strategically no less — perhaps even more — than the death of Raisi. 

The first news that Raisi’s helicopter had disappeared threw Israel's political-security leadership into a state of confusion, said diplomatic sources. The initial intelligence assessment was that Raisi had probably survived what was described as a “hard landing” in Iran’s northwestern mountains. Some Israeli officials even breathed a sigh of relief at the realization that the Iranian leader’s survival would save Israel the effort of disavowing various conspiracy theories about the assassination of an enemy head of state. A scenario in which Israel would have to convince the world that it had nothing to do with Raisi’s demise was the last thing it needed at one of the grimmest points in its history, even as the International Criminal Court was debating whether to issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on war crime charges.

When it became clear that the chopper carrying Raisi and his entourage had not simply experienced a "hard landing" but had in fact crashed, Israel’s assessment shifted to understanding that the president had not survived. Nonetheless, video footage emerging from the accident site appeared to rule out the need for Israel to distance itself from the disaster. The cause was clearly down to the heavy fog, zero visibility conditions and rain, in addition to the well-known state of Iran's outdated fleet of helicopters and planes crippled by the effects of international embargoes on the supply of spare parts.

Israel targeting military, not political leaders

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