What will be the impact of the coronavirus crisis in Iran? How will it affect the Iranian people, and the regime itself? Arutz Sheva spoke with Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum.
"Tens of thousands of people have already contracted the coronavirus in Iran," he says. "There are thousands of dead, all over the country, and the regime itself hasn't been spared. There's total chaos there, with religious leaders at first telling people to fill the mosques and then backtracking and telling everyone to stay home. The authorities seem to have lost control of the situation and they're trying desperately to navigate their way through this crisis and keep a grip on things."
How is this being felt? In typical form, Iran's Supreme Leader "claimed that the virus is a special made-in-America product, targeting Iranians. The regime is feeling the pressure, but that doesn't mean that we can expect great changes, although if the pressure from the public mounts, we might see some government reforms."
Roman points out that this isn't the first time that Iranians have protested against government ineptitude, and suggests that the country could see widespread protests again. "Two years ago, Iranians took to the streets to protest the regime's mishandling of an economic crisis that had severe implications for the public welfare. If, this time around, the Iranian people feel that they can go out onto the streets to demonstrate, they will," he says.
"There's the very real danger that if Iran feels the situation starting to spiral out of control, it will try to stir things up beyond its borders."
However, he cautions that the regime's response may be outward-looking rather than focused on solving the country's real problems, and that the Iranian government might choose to channel popular protest into anti-Israel hatred. "In fact, we can already identify signs that the crisis in Iran could impact Israel. The European Union has decided to relax sanctions against Iran, to help it weather the coronavirus crisis. They already sent the Iranian government a €20 million subsidy and seem likely to respond positively to the Iranian request for another five million dollars in aid."
"Aside from that, there's the very real danger that if Iran feels the situation starting to spiral out of control, it will try to stir things up beyond its borders, focusing public unrest against the usual enemies: the United States and Israel. They could even provoke a war with Israel or with the Arab states, if it's a question of war or the regime losing power. Anything's possible."