Iran in 2013: Three possible crises
December 17th, 2012
07:41 PM ET

Iran in 2013: Three possible crises

This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Mark Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, and is the author of ‘Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan.’

In addition to its ongoing economic problems, which are unlikely to be overcome next year, there are three potential crises that could affect Iran in 2013. One is the possibility of public unrest concerning the succession to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third consecutive term as president. Another possibility is the incapacitation or death of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei setting off a power struggle to succeed him which also results in public unrest. A third possibility is that the Iranian nuclear crisis boils over, and either the U.S. or Israel (or both) launch an armed attack to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The next Iranian presidential election is scheduled to take place on June 14, 2013. The leadership of the Islamic Republic very much wants to avoid the outburst of opposition that occurred in response to the widely-disbelieved announcement that Ahmadinejad had won re-election by a wide margin in June 2009. New regulations that further tighten clerical control over who is allowed to run for president are likely to be put into effect which even some regime insiders – most notably President Ahmadinejad himself – have voiced objection to. If indeed the only candidates allowed to run for president are just those few approved by the regime, the Iranian public may come to regard the entire presidential election process as illegitimate. With the downfall of long-ruling leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen (and possibly Syria by mid-2013) providing role models for what popular uprisings can accomplish, the Iranian public may launch a more concerted effort in response to what it regards as an illegitimate presidential election outcome in 2013 than it did in 2009.

In addition, Khamenei – who wields much greater power than the Iranian president – will be 73 years of age at the beginning of 2013. This is not particularly old, and he could go on to rule for another decade or more (his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, lived to age 86). But if – despite his own vociferous denials – the reports that Khamenei is in poor health are true, it is possible that he could become incapacitated or even die sooner rather than later. Unlike the one and only previous occasion in 1989 when a Supreme Leader (Khomeini) died and Khamenei was able to move up from being president to the top position, it is not clear yet who could replace Khamenei.

More from GPS: Americans want to stay out of Middle East turmoil

Not being a cleric, Ahmadinejad is ineligible for this position – as would be any other non-clerical. Yet even if the next president is a cleric, the religious establishment might not consider him suitable for the supreme leadership post. Given the importance of this position, a power struggle over who should fill it could easily erupt. Finally, an unpopular choice could arouse public opposition not just to the new supreme leader, but to the institution of an unelected supreme leader exercising so much power over elected officials.

Finally, it may be especially difficult for the Iranian leadership to reach agreement with the P5+1 on the nuclear issue during a year in which there will definitely be a presidential transition and possibly a supreme leadership transition (or even just increased politicking over it). At the same time, work on Iran’s various nuclear projects is likely to continue – even if only as a result of bureaucratic inertia. Heightened frustration over this situation may induce the Israeli and/or the U.S. government to launch a military attack against Iran out of the conviction that this is the only means of preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Such a move, of course, could have enormous consequences both for Iranian domestic politics and for international relations more broadly.

Of these three crises, the most likely to occur in 2013 is one over the presidential election since this has now been scheduled. Whether armed conflict will take place over the Iranian nuclear issue depends on decisions taken in Washington and/or Jerusalem, while the possibility of a succession crisis over Iran’s supreme leader post depends most on the state of Ayatollah Khamenei’s health. The real question about these possible crises is the impact that each might have on the strength and stability of the Islamic Republican regime.

Domestic political unrest caused by a negative public reaction to the outcome of the upcoming Iranian presidential election could severely undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, and could even lead to its downfall if a process similar to the successful Arab Spring uprisings unfolds. A negative public reaction following the selection of a new Supreme Leader after the incapacitation or death of Khamenei could similarly undermine the legitimacy of the regime. By contrast – and despite how much Washington and Jerusalem might hope and even expect otherwise – an American and/or Israeli attack on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons could result in a nationalist backlash and increased Iranian public support for the regime.

Of course, any two or even all three of these crises might arise in 2013. Indeed, if Iranian public opposition does arise in response to the outcome of the 2013 presidential elections (and possibly a crisis regarding the position of Supreme Leader), Tehran may actually seek an exacerbation of the nuclear crisis as a way of discrediting the Iranian democratic opposition through claiming it is being supported by America – the same country threatening to attack (or having actually attacked) Iran directly or via its Israeli ally.

Whether such a ploy would actually succeed at a time of heightened internal opposition to the regime cannot be foretold. Tehran, though, can certainly be expected to seize upon exacerbated international tensions over its nuclear program as an excuse to forcibly crack down on its internal democratic opponents. Western governments – particularly the United States – whose principle concern about Iran has been with preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons, would do well to consider carefully how their policies regarding this will impact a crisis of legitimacy that the Islamic Republic could well face in 2013.

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • Iran • Middle East

soundoff (149 Responses)
  1. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu


    December 26, 2012 at 5:04 am | Reply
  2. umish

    Osama was found, so were all the other terrorists who were wiped out,. achmed whatever his name is can be too. but he is nto the problem,, the mullahs are....and as long as they sit saftely in their mosques and holes the Iranian situation can never be solved except at the end of a missile.

    December 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  3. IRAN MUST END.......this evil must go.......


    December 30, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
  4. chuck

    Iran is taking the region toward a path of destruction....... The best thing the Jews could do is extracate and completely seperate themselves from the Palestinian peoples by making some type of negotiated settlement!! Hardline jews must understand that the Arabs are not heartless people like Hitler or devious like the Gentiles!!

    December 31, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  5. 71,000 CEVILAINS KILLED IN SYRIA,,,,,,,

    IT IS ABOUT 70,000 CEVILINAS ARE KILLED IN SYRIA BY THE IRANIANS BACK GOVERNMENT BACKED BY RUSSIA WEAPONS FROM IRAN AND IRAQ AND FIGHTERS FROM IRAQI SHIIA AND HEZBOLLAH THOSE EVIL TERROR SHIIA THUGS USE TAQEYA TO LIE TO USA.the number 70,000 is the correct number plus more than 54000 child women and old men died from hunger ,sickness illness related to war which is not count for, and more than 143000 prisoners all Sunni , kurds captured by the alwayet SHIIA cult 12% of the populations . while usa, France, NATO and UN doing nothing why Libya and Iraq were attacked for only 400 death!!!!!!!is it because there is not much oil in Syria!!!!shame on you OBAMA..........................

    January 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  6. rima tabai

    All the ifs and buts and the neverending razmataz about iran & its nuclear issue is only due to that country's ever increasing achievment in science & technology, a thing the west is really scared of , no attention is ever paid to others in the middle east, the arabs, turks or the like, why? simply because İranians are and have always proved to be a race apart, given the chance they overtake the westerners and will beat them at their own games, be it political, cultural , scientifical or other, well done to them, persians, keep up the good work. may cosmos defeat ur enemies

    January 2, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    What a spin ! No wonder our presidents were ill advised and squandered our treasury. A very well written propaganda piece for the media parrots. "You can fool some people, some of the time, but not all the people all of the time."
    If we had a free press and a democracy things would be different.
    What the article seems to overlook is the danger, not only to Israel, but to us all. Russia and China are now major players due to American Fiscal Abyss. When the leadership in both countries realizes the role Communism played in destruction of their countries they may become more aggressive.

    January 9, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • Lance

      There is no danger to us as Israhell-Firsters keep on yapping. The biggest danger to America are AIPAC and Israhell-Firsters....

      January 13, 2013 at 10:32 am | Reply
  8. left unchecked, iran will come home to roost to american isolationists


    January 12, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  9. Lance

    Israhell is a parasitic leech on America....

    January 13, 2013 at 10:18 am | Reply
  10. Lance

    Israhell is a parasitic leech on America and will not last as a nation given that it cannot succeed on its own but only as long as it can perpetually suck off the teat of the American taxpayers for free. This is a valid statement given that Israehell cannot sustain itself without leeching of WE THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS....Economically it is not viable that a racist apartheid state can continue to leech tens of billions of dollars off of America for perpetuity as Americans are fed up with Israhell coming like hobo with cap in hand year after year after year.
    Can Israel-Firsters not get it that America is broke and we need to look after our own needy who are in their tens of millions in the USA.
    Fact is that Israel has to prosper on its own without parasitically leeching off of Americans and that is something that that nation is incapable of notwithstanding that Israel understands that living is easy if it is off the hard work of others, namely, WE THE AMERICAN TAXPAYERS!
    Fact is that once aid from America stops, Israhell is no longer capable of sustaining itself and if a nation cannot sustain itslef on its own, it will vanish from history and that is a reality that will face Israel notwithstanding all the obfuscation and misrepresentations of what Iran or Ahmedinajad said!!!
    Any readers wanting to re-post this article anywhere has my permission to do so as these "Never Again" Israel-Firster protesters that did Israhell's Nutty-Yahoo bidding by demonstrating in front of OUR President's campaign offices on September 29 are traitors to America who are corrupting America's body politic by putting the interests of that foreign power called IsraHell ahead of America's!!!!
    These Israel–Firsters are clearly showing that their loyalty is to a foreign state called IsraHell and NOT to America.
    They are trying to put a Holocaust guilt trip on Americans to get more Americans needlessly killed in useless wars for their PRECIOUS (said like Golem in the Lord of the Rings), Isra-Hell, in a way that will bankrupt the American treasury and put tens of millions of Americans out of work.
    As many ordinary Americans are now saying, these Israel-Firster traitors can go and shove it as We The American Taxpayers are sick of the Holocaust Industry being rammed down our throats so that Israel-Firsters can leech our dollars off of it for the benefit of both themselves and Israhell which is the biggest parasitic leech on We The American Taxpayers for fifty plus years in the amounts in the hundreds of billions of dollars if not trillions of dollars with no end in sight.
    Judaism is a noble religion and has given many noble values, principles, and precepts to all of humanity and we should not deny the Holocaust but pray for the victims of the Nazi's including Jews, Russians, Gypsies,among others.
    The fact is though that it is sad that Hitler (who I unequivocally condemn), was so ashamed of his own Jewish Ashkenazim/Khazar/Berber origins that he murdered his own people in such horrendous numbers, and Israel-Firsters have ohhh so conveniently hidden or masked this fact for far too long!!!
    The Holocaust did happen and we should be sad about it and the millions of other victims of the Nazis and of Hitler but let's not ignore the origins of those that did it either.
    The reality is that Alfred Rosenberg wrote the ideology of the Nazis – wanna guess what his religious background was?
    It's sad that a person with origins from a great religion like Alfred Rosenberg came from designed Nazi and verify fer herself, Israel-Firsters 'cause yu kin run but yu cain't hide as sound items cain't cut it no more...
    Incidentally, when was the last time that anyone here went to a museum on the terrible inhumanity of slavery?
    How about a museum on the horrible treatment of American-Indians/South American Indians?
    How about a museum on the scourge of colonialism and it's horrible effects to this day on billions of human beings in Asia, in Africa, in North and South America?
    After all, these evils went on for centuries and affected billions of human beings all over the world while the Holocaust despite its terrible evils went on for a paltry four years between 1941-1945.
    Where are all those other museums to man's inhumanity and why are we lambasted with the Holocaust all day and all night in every movie or tv show or news story and every museum on the street corner?
    Why have people but especially Americans not had an opportunity to go these other Museums on slavery or colonialism et et?
    I'll tell you why!
    It is because other groups don't try to leech money off the miseries experienced by their people and other fellow human beings, and they have not made a business industry to profit off of these horrible activities for perpetuity as Israel-Firsters have done!!
    It seems that Israel-Firsters want to hammer Americans and everyone else with the reality of the Holocaust that was instigated by a person of Jewish origin, namely, Adolph Hitler, on his own Jewish people, and they want to put the guilt of the Holocaust on each and every human being while hiding or obfuscating about the prominent role that people of Jewish origin played in this terrible event, and trying to portray it as the most terrible event that ever happened in human history. And all the while, they leech money of it in the most greedy immoral manner!!
    Guess what, Israel-Firsters?
    We Americans had nothing to do with the cannibalization of your people by one of your own, namely, Adolph Hitler, so it's time to end the business industry that you have made around the Holocaust and trying to profit off the miserable end of millions of innocent Jewish people in the gas chambers of Europe at the expense of decent hard working Americans!

    January 13, 2013 at 10:19 am | Reply
  11. Ted Ward

    If Iran is indeed trying to build its own nukes, then they will probably build numerous devices and disperse them secretly around the country creating a fait accompli before announcing to the world their possession of nukes. Furthermore the west should not hesitate to recall or imagine what horrible consequences such as a 9-11 type event, that could arise if the Iranian mullah fanatics were to plan and carry out a nuclear "spectacular" in a western capital by secretly sneaking a nuke into a capital before the world is even aware that Iran has such devices. That is, you don't need a sophisticated missile to weaponize a simple nuke. Something clunkier and crude like a barge, truck, railroad car, container, old jet freighter, semi-submerged tank, small private jet, fishing trawler, any sea-going innocuous rust bucket vessel etc., etc. will do along with some plain old fashioned sneaky, clever, unanticipated or imagined, diabolical plan with some fanatical but disciplined type individuals might get the job done. The horror of the "unthinkable" must be thought of and dealt with before and not after it's too late.

    January 15, 2013 at 1:06 am | Reply
    • SnowElves

      No offense, but everything you have written sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. Wake up dude, this is reality and in reality people get killed by making decisions based solely on perception. There is a deep crisis here in the US and most people are completely clueless to the fact that its occurring. You are being fed only one side of the story. Go to youtube and type "Apologize to the world Mr. Wallace and return that Emmy." Ahmadinejad never threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Mike Wallace manipulated his interview with Ahmadinejad and they gave him an Emmy. They lied to us to manipulate us into another useless war for the sake of...yes...Israel.

      January 15, 2013 at 2:01 am | Reply
      • Ted Ward

        9-11 was no Tom Clancy novel.

        January 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  12. SnowElves

    After almost a decade people still have no idea what the truth about 9/11 is. I will personally never know if it was an inside job or not but what I do know is that the media has suppressed the fact that every Al-Quaeda leader has stated that the main reason for the attack was because of US support for Israel. Why are they hiding these FACTS from us? Why is it that Israeli politicians point the finger at Iran's nuclear development while Israel is the only nation in the Middle East to reject a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone? Why aren't we told the truth about Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and how it is becoming increasingly apartheid? Why do they have an enormous amount of lobbying power in our government? Why are Israelis so willing to get Americans involved in conflicts which they have no intent of paying the bill for or shedding blood for? Above all why aren't any of these questions being addressed in the media????

    January 15, 2013 at 1:55 am | Reply
  13. JAY


    January 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  14. Issa

    The Fact of the Matter is its not about Israel and not about Iran. After reading numerous posts ive realized that its only the few that really know whats really happening with the world and they might not really know. Israel is the U.S and U.K in the ME. Its where Nato stock piles there weapons and were American Troops ready themselves and train for war in the region. Nothing is carried out by the U.S Army without Israeli Presence and Vice Versa. All conflict in the world today has only to do with wealth of Companies (Used to be the Wealth of Nations), and there is a race by the Wealthy to Secure whats left of the Planets resources that has yet to be secured. Media is controlled by the wealthy to obtain overwhelming support of the common man, who in this equation equals = 0.0000001. And its the medias job to keep them this way. Israel can never be destroyed without the destruction of the U.S first. Because a war on Israel by any nation means an automatic War with the U.S, and i don't know which nations dares to bring that kind of fight to their doorstep. Iran is Russia. And as the Cold War ended decades ago Formally. It has still been going on underground and in secret and the race to power in Asia is still in full swing. So really my friends in terms of nations Israel vs Iran = U.S.A vs Russia. so pick a side. Open your eyes and you will see that while we the common man (from all races nations and religion) are on here posting comments on a blog with unconditional support to a side nation religion or person and wasting our time, those we support unconditionally don't even acknowledge our existance and don't care about it at all and are working night and day to secure the future of their great great great x1000 grandchildren and make sure they all have unlimited wealth, while they will not even let one of your dear family members into a hospital to be hospitalized even if they were dying and they would not throw you a crumb if you were dying of hunger (and this goes to all sides of this conflict). We the people of the world, the 6.9999billion are the real victims and are all the same, share the same needs same wants, same problems,and same life... Iranians, Israelis, Americans, Russians, Chinese, Arabs, Europeans, Africans... We are all the same and have much more in common than anyone would think (The Common Man).. So before you publicly and without any kind care call out for more destruction of man and bloodshed and death for any party, remember that we are all humans and that the person you are wishing death upon most likely has nothing to do with what is going on in the world. Most decisions for everyone on the planet are made by less than 0.5% of the worlds population and they never feel the consequences of their decisions because they will cowardly hide in there million dollar mansions somewhere in Switzerland, while they leave the thousands and millions of people that just want to make ends meet suffer through the wrath, even though they had nothing to do with it to begin with. Open your eyes because its much bigger but yet much smaller than you think. We actually have nothing to do with any of it

    January 17, 2013 at 1:36 am | Reply
  15. Bruce Rubin

    The goal of Iran is to produce a delivery system for an atomic weapon and an atomic weapon. Not that they may be in a hurry to use it but at this point they can wreak havok on the world and world markets. Once they have at least a tactical nuclear bomb there really is little chance of a ground invasion against them but they can create all sorts of problems for all the surrounding countries. Any world leader who cannot recognize this needs to retire and go play shuffle board they are obsolete.

    January 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Exactly !

      January 18, 2013 at 8:40 am | Reply
  16. Jean

    Mr. Katz never brought up the issue of Jerusalem being or not being the capitol of Israel.

    There is nothing slanted about saying that Jerusalem will do this or do that.

    Almost everyone understands that the government of Israel makes it's decisions there.

    January 18, 2013 at 3:10 am | Reply
  17. Brian

    Um, LANCE??!?!?!

    Are you really that out of it? The USA has not given free aid to Israel for decades – what we DO do is sell arms to Israel for cold hard cash, which helps the American economy. Crack open a history book from time to time, for God's sakes.

    January 18, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
  18. bribarian

    Ahmadinejad is an international hero.

    January 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  19. Milagros

    Another Iran/Iraq war erasing 2-3 generations of the male populations in each country would be very productive. Relatively peaceful conditions would last for about 15 years when the new generation of sub-human 'hate zombies' is ready to kill.

    January 19, 2013 at 11:24 am | Reply
  20. attack iran now before it is too late


    January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  21. Ted

    Nothing will happen in Iramn until Khameni is alive, but when he bits the dust, the rock-and-roll time lady and gents.

    January 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  22. Carlos Raptis

    The scenarios presented in this article show that the author has no understanding of Iran and global politics.

    1) Ahmedinejad will simply step down after his term is over - he is a University Professor, for God's sake, and how different is he from Professors all over the world? No biases or misquoted statements please.

    2) The mullas will never make public any internal arguments. They have a strong hierarchical system and they are all answerable to God ultimately. Sure, there may be some politics, but they will never let YOU know that. Khamenai was #4 after Khomeini. The #2 and #3 guys were assassinated, remember?

    3) Too late for any attack now. Moreover this is the wrap up prep year for Afghanistan, Iraq's again in flames, and the rebels in Syria are getting a good beating. It will be two years in March since the rebels are trying to throw Assad and the people are fed up now. If Assad stays in one more year, the people themselves will turn against the rebels as their lives will be disturbed for too long ..... just like in Pakistan ..... now the Average Pakistani is against the Taliban as they have understood that mullas are noo good.

    And, I am not an Iranian .....

    January 23, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  23. Dan

    If they do not have nucks already they will and if they donot have them hide they will and they have the mentality that they would have them wired to be set off if they were loseing a war and go to there god then be taken over I really believe this could happen and I fear that for any county going in to Iran

    January 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  24. iran and iraqi shiia are evil

    THE SHIIA THUGS REGIEME OF NORI AL MALEKI open fire on the peacful demonstrators and killed people while praying killed kids women and old men with machine guns while they are walking peacfully in a demonstartion is this usa democracy? usa brought thos evil iraninas for a reason thats why USA AND SO CALL THE FREE WORLD ARE DOING NOTHING TO IRAN AND SYRIA AND GAVE IRAQ ON a silver plater to ira, shame on you

    January 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  25. Tohid.Mostafalou

    US Hypocrisy And Double Standard Towards Iran's Nuclear Program
    The Iranian people have been repeatedly submitted to inspections, cameras and satellites. We have been the victims of sanctions, of even basic medicines; been the victim of covert operations, including the assassinations of our scientists. Therefore, it is time for us to claim our need of a confidence-building exercise from the IAEA, ISIS and the western world.

    February 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  26. صثقفقثغ


    April 23, 2013 at 7:01 am | Reply
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