Iranian media suggests ‘foul play’ and ‘conspiracy’ over Raisi’s death

Iranian media suggests ‘foul play’ and ‘conspiracy’ over Raisi’s death
Iranian social media is awash with speculation that someone wanted the Iranian president gone. / bne IntelliNews
By bne Tehran bureau May 23, 2024

In recent days, Persian and foreign social media has been awash with speculations from individuals, news agencies, political circles, technical experts, and even several pilots about the possibility that the helicopter crash involving President Raisi and his entourage was the result of a foreign conspiracy. This, in part, has come about by several local and even Russian experts suggesting that something is amiss about the helicopter accident, with even the Kremlin previously offering to help find the “true cause” of the accident.

Initial reports on the day of the incident suggested that weather conditions played a role. However, as time has passed, speculation has increasingly leaned towards the possibility of foul play. The Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces has appointed a team to investigate the incident and determine the cause, Aftab News reported on May 23.

Although this team has yet to announce its findings, the sheer volume of conspiracy theories has captured the public's attention. Naturally, the official report from the investigation team will be authoritative and reliable. Nonetheless, the public is keenly following the story, eager to uncover the truth. In such a situation, to prevent foreign entities from exploiting the incident to push their agendas, domestic authorities should provide more information to the public, thus blocking any opportunistic misuses.

One factor that bolsters the conspiracy theory is the location of the crash. The incident occurred near Iran’s border with Azerbaijan, where Israel has established extensive intelligence, communication, and military facilities. The presence of these capabilities near the Azerbaijani border allows Israel the potential to carry out operations within Iranian territory. The fact that only the helicopter carrying President Raisi out of the three helicopters returning from the border area to Tabriz crashed, while the others did not, undermines the theory that weather was a significant factor, thereby strengthening suspicions of a conspiracy.

Another point reinforcing the possibility of a conspiracy is that some technical experts have stated the helicopter exploded mid-air before crashing. If this were the case, it could suggest external or internal tampering, adding a layer of complexity to the incident that warrants thorough investigation.

A further theory posits that the helicopter may have suffered a radar and navigation equipment failure, leading to loss of control and subsequent crash. This scenario too could imply external interference.

While reiterating that the official report from the Armed Forces’ investigation team will be the definitive source of information, three key points must be emphasized.

First, this incident has highlighted significant weaknesses in the planning and execution of the President’s travel arrangements, where many safety protocols seem to have been overlooked. Bne IntelliNews has also learned from a source in the Iranian security apparatus that Raisi demanded to fly earlier tha scheduled from the border of Azerbaijan throwing plans off course.

Second, the event has underscored the inadequacy of Iran's navigation systems. Iran's aviation infrastructure has long been criticised for its outdated technology and insufficient maintenance. If the crash resulted from a conspiracy, this deficiency likely played a part. Modern helicopters rely heavily on advanced navigation systems to ensure safe travel, especially in challenging conditions and hostile environments. The absence of state-of-the-art equipment can make aircraft more vulnerable to electronic interference, jamming, or hacking, which could have catastrophic consequences.

Moreover, this inadequacy points to a broader issue within Iran's aviation sector: the lack of investment in upgrading critical infrastructure. Without the latest technological advancements in radar, GPS, and communication systems, helicopters and other aircraft are at a heightened risk of malfunction or deliberate sabotage.

In President Raisi's case, the helicopter's failure to navigate effectively could have been exploited by external actors with sophisticated technological capabilities.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, former Foreign Minister, blamed this very reason for the crash, saying a lack of aviation parts caused a malfunction.

"One of the culprits behind yesterday’s tragedy is the United States because of its sanctions that bar Iran from procuring essential aviation parts," Zarif said during the interview.

Third, the incident has exposed severe weaknesses in national security measures against foreign conspiracies. The helicopter crash involving President Raisi has highlighted significant vulnerabilities in Iran's defence and intelligence apparatus, with reports of having to rely on Turkish drones to find the chopper.

Despite being a high-value target, the presidential helicopter appears to have been insufficiently protected against potential threats, raising questions about the efficacy of existing security protocols. Moreover, the incident reveals the lack of comprehensive threat assessments and contingency planning for protecting top officials.

Effective national security strategies should anticipate and mitigate a wide range of risks, including espionage, cyber-attacks, and physical sabotage. If the conspiracy theories are proven correct, the fact that the helicopter carrying the President could be potentially targeted so precisely suggests a failure to adequately anticipate and guard against such threats.