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How Does Tehran Think as the World Deals With Covid-19?

How Does Tehran Think as the World Deals With Covid-19?

Monday, 25 May, 2020 - 04:30

If we are to rely on foreign reporters’ accounts on Covid-19, the general trend in the US, Western Europe and some east Asian countries is moving towards the gradual lifting of the lockdown and restrictions on travel, shopping and mass events. In the Arab world there are complicated existential issues made even more complicated by the pandemic.

The gradual lifting of the lockdown in the West comes amid several new data, some of which is contradictory. For example, there is no consensus yet on whether we are close or not to developing a vaccine against Covid-19, despite repeated announcements of promising breakthroughs. Furthermore, there are yet no guarantees that there would be a post-infection immunity, or that new mutations or strains would be contained next autumn. On the other hand, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic is getting worse, unemployment is rapidly rising, and many business sectors are teetering in the brink of collapse.

In the meantime, communities are suffering psychologically from the stay-at-home directives, school closures, and the disruption of routine medical services due to the urgent need to contain and treat Covid-19 cases. The psychological stress is making people, regardless of backgrounds, awareness, and education into easy victims to peddlers in conspiracy theories; indeed, some are profiting from these conspiracy theories.

Thus, between the worry about the delay in finding a cure, and doubting scientists and scientific data from one side, and being influenced by political propaganda connected with various business interests on the other, many people have simply given up. Despair engenders abandonment, and this is what we see happening today with the rush of a number of European and Asian countries, as well as the Republican-run American states, to lift the lockdown, albeit, gradually.

In the Arab region, which is already in bad shape, the situation in the deeply-troubled countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, is expected to deteriorate further; with the pandemic adding to their socio-political crises caused by Iran’s project of hegemony, and its repercussions. Here, political analysts have different readings of the recent political and security developments in these countries; against the background of ambiguous international dealings with their affairs and priorities.

Regarding Israel, there is little difference of opinions as to what the country’s right-wing leaders want. But it is obvious that the pandemic, allied with voter despair and electoral fatigue, have managed to achieve what political animosity failed to do. The military establishment, represented by the Blue and White Party - which is led by three generals – has accepted the cost of a temporary compromise with Benjamin Netanyahu, the epitome of ‘nationalistic’ opportunism, and religion-clad corruption. However, in an American election year, and thanks to limitless Republican backing to Netanyahu, some believe that Washington – temporarily, at least – prefers to delay the annexation projects hurriedly ‘cooked’ by the Israeli rightists while the world is busy with Covid-19, and worried Arabs are squeezed between Iran’s hegemony and Turkey’s ambition.

As for Iran, the different readings are clearer. Monitors of the Middle East believe that Tehran’s sway in the Arab countries over which it has always boasted its hegemony, is now much weaker after the killing of Qassem Soleimani, its ‘spearhead’ in the region. These monitors use as a proof Tehran’s acceptance of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi as Prime Minister after his nomination was twice rejected by Tehran and its Iraqi militias. They – meaning the monitors – also optimistically claim that since Al-Kadhimi’s status strengthened, the voices and influence of the militias have weakened after being the masters of the arena.

The optimists, however, are confronted by the doubters. The latter believe that long experience with Tehran’s political ‘dissimulation’ must be met with caution. The Iranian leadership and its Iraqi henchmen can and may do anything during the next few months leading to the US elections in early November. They believe that this leadership’s military culture is based on the principle of ‘attack as the best form of defense’; thus, while fighting its ‘defensive’ wars deep in the enemy’s coveted territories, it would not mind taking one step backward before moving two steps forward.

Moreover, the Iranian leadership regards the re-emergence of ISIS on Iraqi soil as its valuable political and security ‘reserve’; as whenever Tehran’s position seems to be weakening, ISIS reappears suddenly on territories that are supposed to be under Iranian control, under skies supposed to be controlled by the Americans!

Indeed, the recent return of ISIS to northwestern Iraq coincided with Al-Kadhimi’s move to improve the cooperation with the international community. After being approved by parliament, this cabinet is striving to fulfill its role as a government of a sovereign state, and overcome difficult challenges, especially economic problems, budget deficit and cash crises.

Hoping to be wrong, I still think that Tehran is playing its ‘Iraqi game’ in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. It is based on the tactic of ‘facilitating solutions and feigning moderation’ just to gain time, and wait for changes in Washington; against a background of European confusion, and divergence between sudden Germany’s toughening positions towards Hezbollah and France’s ‘grey’ attitude towards Hezbollah’s project for Lebanon.

I believe, that while Iran may not reclaim its past influence in Washington, even if the Democrats win in November, it will enjoy a far greater margin for maneuvering than its current difficulties with Trump’s eccentricity and the blackmail of his Evangelist and ‘Likudist’ supporters.

Here, I am using the word ‘blackmail’ because I rule out any US-Iran confrontation, whether under a Republican of Democratic president, let alone an American war to bring down the Tehran regime. Actually, I believe that this regime is a ‘necessity’ for both Washington and Israel; more so if its collapse leads to the fracturing and partitioning of Iran.

Therefore, the common interest of Washington and Tel Aviv – as well as Moscow – is nothing but ensuring a manageable ceiling for Tehran’s regional ambitions. This is where the visions of the three capitals converge as they deal with the future of Syria, and subsequently, Lebanon.

Hezbollah is well aware of this fact, because it is very much a part of Tehran’s thinking and its tactic of ‘facilitating solutions and feigning moderation’; but in tandem with systematic destruction of the Lebanese state’s raison d’etre, institutions, and everything that is related to Lebanon’s role, diversity, coexistence, civilized identity, and culture of life.

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