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Raisi’s demise won’t dilute resistance to Israeli aggression

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Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, left, and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi, the third dam jointly built by Iran and Azerbaijan on the Aras River, ahead of its inauguration ceremony. – A helicopter in the convoy of the Iranian president was involved in “an accident” in East Azerbaijan province on May 19, state televsion reported, without specifying if the president was on board. – Picture: Iranian Presidency / AFP / May 19, 2024

By Reneva Fourie

The unyielding strife for freedom and dignity can never be suppressed. In the 1980s, the youth who battled apartheid drew inspiration from the resounding slogan “Freedom or death, victory is certain”.

This same fervour fuels the resolve of the people in west Asia, spanning Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Consequently, any attempts by external forces to destabilise or oppress them have been fiercely resisted.

The current intense resistance in the region is a response to escalating brutal Israeli aggression, particularly against the Palestinian people.

The affected states are steadfastly defending themselves despite facing an imbalance due to the superior weaponry of the aggressor, backed by the United States and European countries. Iran plays a pivotal role in securing the sovereignty of states in west Asia and preventing US expansion in the region. It is especially known for its strong support for the Palestinians.

This has positioned it as a nemesis of Israel and the US, resulting in extensive demonisation by them. Hence, amid the blockages of much-needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians, the escalating death toll in Gaza and the West Bank, South Africa’s efforts at the International Court of Justice to secure a ceasefire, the issuing of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court, and the continued intense Israeli attacks in Rafah, the events of Sunday, May 19, are undeniably a tragedy.

Many people were anxious when the helicopter, one in a convoy of three, carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and several other passengers, went missing.

The president and his delegation were returning from an opening ceremony of the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, the largest joint water project between Iran and Azerbaijan. The helicopter was understood to have executed a hard landing in mountainous terrain, making it difficult to find. Soon, footage of Iranians country-wide praying for their well-being emerged. Well-wishes for their safety and offers to send rescue teams started pouring in from across the world.

While most were focusing on locating the crash site, Israeli and US commentators were actively working to clear the two countries of any wrongdoing. Israel’s Channel 12 boldly announced President Raisi’s death hours before the crash site was even located.

It was only in the early hours of Monday morning that the site was discovered, confirming that the helicopter had been burned and that there were no survivors.

The news had a devastating impact on the region. The black flag of mourning was flown above the dome of the revered Shah Cheragh shrine. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, announced five days of public mourning in Iran.

Additionally, Syria and Lebanon declared three days of public mourning, while Turkey, Iraq and Cuba designated one day. Many countries lowered their flags to half-mast, and the United Nations observed a moment of silence in their honour.

From Tuesday, millions of tear-filled people lined the streets as the funeral procession made its way through the country. The scenes evoked memories of the tragic assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the US. Contrary to Western propaganda, President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian were widely respected figures known for their humility and approachability. They also commanded significant international influence.

During President Raisi’s term, Iran demonstrated its strength in the face of Israeli aggression, most recently through Operation True Promise. The country played a significant role in combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Iran also restored diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, strengthened relationships with Russia and China, and became a member of the BRICS+ organisation.

It promoted the use of currencies other than the dollar in trade and provided essential goods, including oil, to allied countries that were affected by sanctions and illegal occupations by the US and Israel despite facing sanctions themselves. Iran emerged as a critical player in advancing a more balanced and fair multipolar world order.

Iran paid a heavy price for its bold insistence on being independent and wanting to be treated as equals by Israel, the US, and their allies. Relations between Iran and the US started deteriorating after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Before that, the US and other countries in Europe assisted with enriching its uranium, but after 1980, Iran was labelled an obstacle to US interests in the region, and its nuclear capability, the greatest threat to international peace. Successive US administrations proceeded to impose sanctions on Iran, and its assets were frozen.

An agreement was reached with the US in 2015, which included the easing of sanctions and the release of over a billion US dollars of Iranian assets, on condition that Iran stop research and development of a nuclear bomb. Given the severe impact of sanctions on its economy, Iran complied with the conditions. However, the US withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

Further to the stringent unilateral coercive measures imposed on Iran, the US attempted to instigate several colour revolutions in the country.

In addition, the US and Israel executed targeted assassinations against Iranian scientists and security personnel.

Since 2017, Israel struck Iranian-linked targets in Syria over a thousand times.

One such incident includes an attack on an apartment in the road of the official South African residence in Damascus, just days before South Africa’s ICJ hearing in January this year. It is important to note that Iran never initiated aggression against any country, despite the constant provocation by Israel and the US.

Given their history of assassinations, it would not be surprising if the US and Israel were suspected of playing a role in the deaths of the Iranian president, foreign minister and their colleagues, hence the premature efforts to exonerate themselves. Investigations into the cause of the crash are still underway. However, it is hard not to recall the deaths of the late presidents Samora Machel and John Garang, whose aircrafts also crashed under mysterious circumstances.

Their deaths and our history as South Africans remind us that while the West and its allies may succeed in taking the life of one person, they will never succeed in extinguishing the spirit of a people determined to defend their freedom and dignity. The tragedy that befell Iran will only strengthen the country and its people.

Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security