Iran might be making big geopolitical gains across a shattered Middle East, but when it comes to his personal health, Iran’s elderly Supreme Leader isn’t doing so well recently. Reuters has a good write-up on the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s declining health and public profile in the wake of a surgery he announced he was having last month:
Top officials including President Hassan Rouhani, the head of the judiciary and the speaker of parliament went to the 75-year-old Supreme Leader’s bedside, with each visit reported with photos on Iranian news sites. Even former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has had a tense relationship with Khamenei in recent years, came for a visit.Rumors about Khamenei have circulated for years. But there has never been such a media blitz on the health of the Supreme Leader, who holds substantial influence or constitutional authority over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the military and media.The head of the surgical team said Khamenei had an operation on his prostate which lasted less than half an hour and only local anesthetic had been used. He was completely awake and speaking during the procedure, the surgeon said.But if Khamenei’s health deteriorates, the traditional clergy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Iran’s top military force and an economic powerhouse – will need to settle on a successor quickly if the country is to avoid a period of political instability, experts say.
Reuters goes through the litany of figures likely to succeed the ailing Ayatollah, and speculates as to which factions are most likely to support which candidate. The elephant in the room, however, is how a pitched succession struggle is likely to cloud U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran. For an administration that has seemed to stake so much on coming to some kind of agreement or understanding with Iran over nuclear weapons, this cannot be welcome news. And if the Revolutionary Guard and its allies succeed in putting a hardline candidate in the top slot, the Obama administration will have to rethink its entire Middle East stance.