The killing of General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike seemed to have united and rallied Iranians behind their Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
As the body of the revered military leader arrived in Tehran, thousands took to the streets, beating their chest and chanting death to America. Iran was a nation united by grief and patriotism.
However, the admission by the military of shooting down the Ukrainian Boeing jetliner has opened a can of worm which could spell doom for the regime.
Hundred’s of Iranians expressed their anger with the way the government had responded to questions about the air crash, coming out on the streets to demand the resignation of their leaders. “Commander in chief resign” and “death to liars”, they shouted. Perhaps the anger was intensified by the fact that almost 130, victims of the crash were Iranians of dual nationalities.
The mainly anti-government protests could easily bring back the memory of 1979 when a series of violent strikes and protests led to the overthrow of Iran’s last monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in what is today known as Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
With the journalists also joining the criticism the government has a reason to fear. A statement by the Association of Iranian journalist read, “The publication of false information has had a severe impact on public opinion, and more than ever shook the media’s shaky position.”
The statement was issued as two journalists working for the state broadcaster IRIB, announced their resignation for being used by the state to tell lies.
When reports about the air crash emerged last week, US, Canada and UK, issued statements saying they strongly believed the jetliner was brought down by a missile. Lending credence to their claims was the fact that it happened just hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles against US military targets.
To some experts, the way the debris of the plane were strewn over a wide area was a sign that it was brought down by a missile. Furthermore, small halls appearing on the remains of the fuselage were indications of missile fragments. Iran, however, rejected the rumours calling them a “big lie”
The head of the country’s Civil Aviation Organisation, Mr Ali Abedzadeh, told a local TV channel that it was not possible an Iranian missile had hit the jet. “How would the antiaircraft system shoot it? It wasn’t a security area.” Mr Abedzadeh further added that nine other planes were flying in the area at the time while others were flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet. According to him, “If the plane was hit by a missile it would have exploded.”
For days Iran vehemently denied that it was responsible for bringing down the plane. However, with concrete evidence cropping up on social media and from intelligence sources, Iran was forced to admit that the jet was brought down by its air defence system.
This sparked angry riots across Tehran from those who accused the government of cover-up. Riot police quickly responded with tear gas to break the protests.
There’s no doubt that a regime change is something Donald Trump and his administration would love to see. Washington strategy for a regime change has always been, to put pressure on the regime by imposing heavy sanctions which would eventually cripple the economy, making Iranian’s to revolt against the government.
However, America has always denied this with Trump telling reporters last year, “we are not looking for regime. We are not looking at that at all.” Similar sentiments were expressed by Pompeo who stated “The objectives are to change behaviours of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” while the then-White House security adviser John Bolton said, “That’s not the policy of the administration. The policy of the administration is to make sure that Iran never gets close to deliverable nuclear weapons.”
But according to Brookings Institution, despite the denial, “regime change or at the very least regime collapse” is the main aim of Trump’s administration.
When the protests first broke out last week Trump tweeted,” To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.”
In another Tweet, he wrote, “Do not kill your protesters. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the world is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people.”
In highlighting the state of Iranian economy, Brookings Institutions said, “The reimposition of U.S sanctions on Iran has already imposed significant costs on the country, gutting the value of its domestic currency, driving off most reputable foreign investors, and severely complicating all international transactions.”
This affects the middle class and with the growing anti-government sentiments nothing can be ruled out. A simple trigger is enough to create a serious wave of dissent that can topple the government.
The Iranian government knows very well how the situation can turn out and has responded with great brutality, firing live ammunition and wounding several protesters. It is a ticking time bomb that has been waiting for a very long time to explode.
In November 2019 Iran faced serious internal strife as many took to the streets to protest against the country’s leadership and increase in fuel prices. Within a matter of hours, the violent protests had spread to 21 cities.
The government responded by killing 1,500 protesters and detaining thousands. To prevent the coordination of the protests and the sharing of information it shut down the internet for almost one week.
Even then the US couldn’t hide its support for the protests with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tweeting, “The United States is with you, while the White House said, “We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators. Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches.”
Trump expressed his support to the protesters by tweeting, “ Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country.”Iran dismissed all the statements terming them as hypocritical since the protests were caused by the sanctions imposed on the country by America.
Although the protests were brutally crushed, the resurging dissension in the aftermath of Ukraine flight 752 disaster, could pose the biggest threat to the regime. After all, Iran has a revolutionary history that could easily influence the protesters.