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Death of Iran's President Stirs More Mideast Volatility as Gantz, Protesters Challenge Israel's Government

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Iranian state TV confirmed Monday that Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

His death shocks the Iranian regime while its proxies are at war with Israel.   

As the Netanyahu government interprets what his death will mean in the war with those proxies, the prime minister is being challenged by protests and political rivals at home.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei appointed First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as the country's acting president after Raisi's death.

The country's cabinet also announced it would continue the policies of Raisi.

According to state television reports, Raisi's helicopter crashed in bad weather after returning from inaugurating a dam in Iran's East Azerbaijan province. 

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian also died in the crash.

The crash occurred after months of war between Iran's proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, along with Iran's unprecedented drone and missile attack against Israel in April.

 

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Raisi was known as the "Butcher of Tehran" for his involvement in sentencing thousands of political opponents to death in the 1980s after the Islamic revolution.

During his term as president, he suppressed massive protests against the regime.

He also oversaw Iran's nuclear program as it got closer than ever before to creating weapons-grade uranium.

He was also an implacable foe of Israel, yet Israel is denying any involvement in his death.

Also in Israel, Benny Gantz, a member of the War Cabinet, publicly issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz said his National Unity Party would leave the government by June 8th unless Netanyahu launches a comprehensive plan for the "day after" the war with Hamas ends – and the plan must include a governing body in Gaza with international and Palestinian personnel.

Netanyahu fired back, accusing Gantz of "issuing an ultimatum to the prime minister instead of issuing an ultimatum to Hamas."

The prime minister added that Gantz's demands would mean "an end to the war and defeat for Israel., abandoning the majority of the hostages, leaving Hamas in power, and creating a Palestinian state." 

Netanyahu's coalition has enough members to survive even if Gantz's party leaves.

Amid the political turmoil, thousands gathered Saturday night in Tel Aviv to demand new elections and Netanyahu's resignation.

A counter-protest is planned Monday night at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem demanding an end to U.S. pressure on Israel to limit its actions in Rafah and calling on President Joe Biden to pressure Hamas to release the hostages.

The Israel Defense Forces announced they had recovered the bodies of four Israelis murdered by Hamas.

They also released a video of eight-year-old Ela Elyakim while in Hamas captivity. She has since been released in an earlier hostage deal.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari stated, "The video, which is being released today for the first time, was intended to be used by Hamas for psychological terror. But Ela's family asked us to share it with the world to expose Hamas's terror, to expose Hamas's cruelty, to expose Hamas's barbarism."

The girl told the IDF she was made to repeat the lines Hamas gave her many times and she was forced to change clothes.

At the Knesset, U.S. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-New York), the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, delivered a speech to parliament on Sunday, promising to support Israel and combat antisemitism.

She told Knesset members, "As long as I serve the American people, I will defend George Washington's vision of religious pluralism and freedom. Today, this means crushing antisemitism at home and supplying the state of Israel with what it needs when it needs it, without conditions to achieve total victory in the face of evil."

For now, the focus is on Iran and what comes next in that country – and what it means for Israel and the Middle East.

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Chris
Mitchell