What Happened to Iran's Supreme Leader?

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not been seen in public for several weeks, leaving Iranians worried.

Elad Benari,

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
AFP photo

Has Iran’s Supreme Leader disappeared and, if so, what happened to him?

Al Arabiya reported on Thursday that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been out of public sight for three weeks, amid speculations of his declining health. His “disappearance” has left the country worried about a power vacuum, reported the network.

Quoting Iranian sources, UK newspaper The Times reported on Thursday that “Ayatollah Khamenei collapsed recently during a private meeting and since then has been convalescing or receiving treatment.”

He last appeared to the public in Tehran on October 5, The Times reported.

Concerns about Khamenei’s health grew when he failed to send customary farewells to Iranian pilgrims traveling for hajj two weeks ago, according to Al Arabiya.

He also did not deliver an address during Eid al-Ghadeer, a festive day observed by Shiites.

“It seems the illness is worse than we thought. People are scared that this could be the end,” one supporter was quoted as having told The Times.

Khamenei, who has the final word in all state affairs, has no appointed heir. Conservatives fear his death could bring a reformist to Islamic Republic’s supreme leadership.

Khamenei came to power in 1989, following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, who assumed power in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

He has been a fierce critic of Israel, inciting to violence against the Jewish state. In a speech last year, Khamenei called Israelis “ferocious Zionist wolves who digest the Palestinian people.”

In another incident, he expressed hope that Israel would be wiped off the map and that the “Palestinians” will eventually retake control of their motherland.

Khamenei has also been critical of Western states negotiating with his country over its nuclear program. He has warned that Washington was "not trustworthy", after former U.S. officials and lawmakers urged diplomacy with President Hassan Rouhani.

He has also blamed the West for the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, saying it can be solved easily if the Western states stop their “stubborn attitude.”