Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is currently hospitalized in serious condition at a hospital in Tehran, according to unofficial reports.
Khamenei is suffering from prostate cancer that has reportedly spread to the rest of his body.
Earlier this week, the French newspaper Le Figaro quoted Western intelligence officials as saying that the cancer was discovered about ten years ago. "The cancer is in stage four, in other words has spread." Doctors estimate "he has two years left to live."
On September 8, Khamenei underwent surgery and it was then that doctors discovered the fatal situation.
In Iran, however, his condition is not public, and only those close to him know how bad the situation is. One such person is one of his six children, his 45-year-old son Mugtaba Khamenei, who has major political clout in the country.
Sources say however that it is likely that President Hassan Rouhani is aware of the supreme leader's condition.
The West is concerned for Khamenei's health because it could affect a nuclear agreement.
Who are the candidates who could replace him?
There are many candidates to succeed Khamenei at the top spot in the Islamic Republic. On August 21, the chairman of the Council of Experts Ayatollah Reza Mahdavi-Kani passed away at the age of 83. In the council there are 86 members that are chosen every eight years, and they choose the supreme leader. For now, the temporary head of the Council of Experts is Ayatollah Hashsemi Shahroudi. Shahroudi is considered a moderate but close to Khamenei. He was at the head of the Iranian justice system for ten years, from 1999 to 2009. He is one of the heads of the Shi'ite religion, which allows him to issue fatwas.
On March 15 the Council of Experts will hold a meeting on whether to select Shahroudi as the chairman until the end of his term that would extend a year. In 2016, members of the council will choose a new chairmen from among the candidates, and this will constitute a real test for Ayatollah Shahroudi. If he is chosen again for a second term, this will be a step up in attaining the role of Khamenei's successor.
Other candidates for the position of supreme leader are Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani (54), brother of Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. In addition, Hashemi Rafsanjani (81) would be able to handle the job, and so too the current President Hassan Rouhani (66), although the chances of the latter are slim because he is a moderate, and his religious achievements will not be enough for the job.
However, Khamenei himself was not considered to have sufficient religious expertise when he was elected in 1989, so he relied on the Revolutionary Guards and a constitutional revision in order to become the supreme leader.
For now, the West is closely following Khamenei's health, since some issues depend on it, including the attempt to obtain a nuclear bomb, the Syrian-Iraqi struggle, public hatred toward Israel, hostility toward Saudi Arabia and openness to the West.