A quick take as midnight flees:
We knew he had been hospitalized on Friday. Whether he is dead or dying, one thing this development would do is make it prudent to delay concluding agreements of any kind with Iran. Frankly, the Obama administration would stand against the entire world if it tried to push something by its self-imposed deadline of 24 March. Even Russia and China would consider that wrongheaded — for any kind of deal, no matter how poorly negotiated by Obama and disadvantageous to the United States.
Social media is ablaze with rumors that Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died. Iranian state-media has yet to confirm or deny such rumors.
Cairo-based journalist Gamal Sultan wrote on social media that Khamenei died after suffering from a bout with prostate cancer, after surgery failed to alter the course of his demise, according to Rassd News Network.
Daniel J. Levy of The Times Of Israel wrote on Twitter late Saturday: “Hearing unconfirmed reports from a usually very reliable source of Ayatollah Khamenei’s death today.”
On Friday, Iranian media confirmed that “The commander of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Khamenei, his health deteriorated on Friday morning, and was admitted to a Tehran hospital,” reported Al Bawaba News.
Jordan Schachtel adds a point that is sure to interest many:
The rumors concerning Khamenei’s possible death come at the end of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the thwarting of a Persian plot meant to destroy the empire’s Jews. The Book of Esther states that Haman, who served as a minister to who is believed to be King Xerxes I, planned to slaughter all of Persia’s Jews, but his plot collapsed after Mordecai and Esther exposed it.
At least some Western observers will be watching for signs of a dissident push:
History has shown that a country’s power structure is most vulnerable when its leadership appears to be in a state of transience. It remains to be seen whether Iran’s dissidents will seize the moment of uncertainty and rise up in an attempt to take their country back from its Caliphatist despots.
My sense is that momentum is not with the dissidents right now. Hassan Rouhani is by no means a centrist, but he doesn’t have the psycho-killer freight of Ahmadinejad, and doesn’t seem to split the clerical council in Qom the way Ahmadinejad did. Both factors make it less likely that wedges — in the leadership or in popular loyalty — can be exploited by would-be challengers to the regime.
That said, the timing here is significant to more than just the nuclear negotiations. Will the regime in Tehran be confident in continuing to press its campaign in eastern Iraq? Historically, Iran has been more likely to call the most important generals home when internal turmoil threatens. Persian campaigns in Mesopotamia were stopped in their tracks for just such reasons on more than one occasion, during the centuries when the main antagonists were the Muslim caliphates and the Ottoman Empire. The Zagros Mountains have always ensured that internal turmoil east of them was a higher priority for Iran’s rulers than conquest west of them.
General Qassem Soleimani, mastermind of the Iranian campaigns in Iraq and Syria, is very plugged in to the highest levels of national authority in Iran. But that’s not the same as saying that he is indispensable to an orderly transition of power. My sense is that he is not. He may or may not be called back. But there may still be a loss of momentum, or a temporary diffusion of geopolitical focus, while the supreme leadership sorts itself out.
It’s difficult to handicap what may happen here, because all factors in the world situation are in such flux. Few of the old assumptions still apply. We can count on Russia and China, I think, to act in accordance with their traditional priorities. But they are peripheral factors in this situation. Islamic State will no doubt interpret this as a sign of eschatological favor. The status quo nations will be scrambling over the next couple of weeks to chart a new course: they face two big question marks in Khamenei’s fate and the election in Israel.
They, and we, can probably all bet that Netanyahu will remain as prime minister, and a successor will have to be found for Khamenei. From any sensible standpoint, the latter development makes the 24 March deadline in the nuclear negotiations moot.
Obama and Kerry don’t take it well when their deadlines are overtaken by events, but in this case, it’s hard to see how they can prevail if they continue to push, against any sane calculation. The Iraq campaign, for its part, stands a good chance of spending some weeks, at the least, in limbo. (If I had to predict, I would say the Iranians won’t want to lose momentum in seizing Tikrit, and will try to finish that job before slowing down.) The whole package may well give Israel a little breathing room in which to hold the election on the 17th, without more geopolitical temblors accumulating ahead of it.
And so we wait, in this most “interesting” of times.