Triggered by a report in the New York Times on Friday, rumors are swirling in the international press, among foreign diplomats and intelligence services, and on social media that Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader, is critically ill and that his days on earth may be numbered.

Yet there are conflicting reports.

Officials close to the Supreme Leader say that he doing rather well for a man in his 80s.

On Saturday, aides to Khamenei released on his Twitter feed two new photos of him speaking at a religious gathering that day.

Iranian media ran additional photos, plus a video of him speaking to young Iranians, to bolster the claim that he is doing fine.

Who is right?

 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attending an Arbaeen ceremony in Tehran, Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

WHY IT MATTERS

Whenever the Supreme Leader dies – but especially if it is soon – it will be a major geopolitical earthquake in the Middle East.

Why?

For one thing, the Supreme Leader has the final say in all matters in the Islamic Republic of Iran – it is he, and he alone, who decides whether Iran goes to war with Israel, or orders Hezbollah to go to war with Israel, or decides to break out and rapidly build nuclear weapons, or to accept a new nuclear deal with the West.

The Biden administration has been practically begging Tehran to sign a new deal, even offering huge financial inducements, yet Iranian negotiations are dragging their heels and seem to show little interest in finalizing a deal. Is that just a negotiating tactic? Has Khamenei told the negotiations to string along the Biden administration? Or is Khamenei’s health complicating the process because he is unable to think clearly and/or give decisive orders.

For another thing, there is no line of succession to replace a Supreme Leader.

That is, there is no one formally appointed to be “waiting in the wings,” ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

Thus, it is not clear who would be chosen as Khamenei’s replacement.

That would be decided by Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a group of 88 senior Shia Muslim clerics who are highly-vetted by the regime and who each serve eight-year terms.

Would the assembly choose a veritable clone of Khamenei, someone who holds a deep-seated belief in Apocalyptic Islamism?

This is the view that Iran must utterly annihilate Israel, which Khamenei regards as the “Little Satan,” and the United States, which he regards as the “Great Satan,” in order to usher in the End of Days, the arrival of the Mahdi (also known as the Twelfth Imam) who will establish a global caliphate and rule the world under Sharia law with an iron fist.

Or, would the assembly choose someone who is only a subscriber to Radical Islamism – someone dangerous and violent but not sharing Khamenei’s genocidal End Times theology?

Or, free from Khamenei’s control, would the assembly choose a reformer of some kind who would take Iran in a very different direction?

The last option would be great, but is unlikely.

More likely are one of the first two options, both of which have serious implications for the national security of the U.S., Israel and our moderate Arab allies.

Bottom line: as we approach the end of the end for Khamenei – whenever that is – Christians around the world need to be praying for the liberation of the Iranian people and the spread of the Gospel in that dark and enslaved country.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTING?

On Friday, the New York Times published an explosive story claiming that Khamenei “canceled all meetings and public appearances last week after falling gravely ill and is currently on bed rest under observation by a team of doctors, according to four people familiar with his health situation.”

This report is what triggered global speculation over the Supreme Leader’s health and how serious his conditions really are.

“Khamenei, 83, had surgery sometime last week for bowel obstruction after suffering extreme stomach pains and high fever, one of the people said,” the Times reported. “The four people, two of whom are based in Iran, including one who has close ties with the country’s Revolutionary Guards, requested anonymity for discussing a sensitive issue like Ayatollah Khamenei’s health.”

“Ayatollah Khamenei underwent the surgery at a clinic set up at his home and office complex and is being monitored around the clock by a team of doctors, the person familiar with the operation said,” the Times added. “The ayatollah’s condition was considered critical last week but has improved, and he is currently resting, the person said. His doctors remain concerned that he is too weak to even sit up in bed.”

The Times added that Khameinei’s staff “canceled all meetings last week and also an important annual meeting with the Assembly of Experts — the body that will decide his replacement once he dies — on Sept. 6 because he was too ill to sit up, according to four people familiar with his health condition.”

 

An Arbaeen ceremony in Tehran in which Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attended following rumors of his failing health, Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

 

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTING?

On Sunday, however, the Wall Street Journal published its own front-page story, contradicting the severity of the Times report.

“Iranian media on Saturday published photographs and video of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attending a religious ceremony in Tehran, amid speculation about the octogenarian’s health among foreign diplomats, on social media and in published reports,” the Journal reported.

The Journal did report that Khamenei’s health has declined in recent weeks.

Yet it noted that “there has been no official confirmation that he has had recent medical problems” while adding that “he is known to have had heart and prostate problems in the past.”

“In the photos made public Saturday, Mr. Khamenei was shown seated alone and wearing a medical mask at a mosque that is part of his residence complex in Tehran before an audience of masked university students,” the Journal reported. “Video excerpts showing Mr. Khamenei addressing the crowd were also broadcast by Iranian media. Speaking quickly in his familiar style, Mr. Khamenei seemed to allude to well-wishers who had asked about his health: ‘I give my regards to those who sent their regards to me from afar and wish them the best,’ he told the crowd.”

The Journal further noted that “Khamenei was diagnosed with heart disease as far back as 1998, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died in 2017, said in recently published diaries. The late Mr. Rafsanjani said the media speculated Mr. Khamenei was affected by ‘an unknown disease, because we had not explicitly stated it is heart disease. In 2014, it was announced that he was undergoing surgery for prostate cancer and state media released photos showing him in a hospital bed receiving visitors. He was pictured receiving a COVID-19 vaccination in 2021.”

As this is an important and developing story, my team and I will be tracking it closely.

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