Expect Surprises as Iran Prepares for Khamenei’s Successor

Expect Surprises as Iran Prepares for Khamenei’s Successor
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the worshippers, in front of a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini at the Tehran University campus, Iran, Feb. 3, 2012 (AP photo/Office of the Supreme Leader).

Iran has a habit of surprising the West, and there is reason to expect important new surprises are on the way.

In the not too distant future, a major change will take place at the top of Iran’s power hierarchy, and it will unfold mostly outside the view of Western analysts. Since there is no way of knowing exactly who will become the Islamic Republic’s third supreme leader, the West would do well to avoid excessively self-assured pronouncements on the matter.

The most startling and embarrassing of all surprises for Washington came more than three decades ago. In 1977, the U.S. threw a lavish state dinner for the visiting Shah of Iran. Then-President Jimmy Carter heaped praise, famously toasting Iran as an “island of stability” in a turbulent region. Less than two years later, the Shah was on the run, fleeing from a popular uprising that ended with the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the sudden transformation of a close ally into one of America’s most bitter foes.

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