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Opinion – Iran’s End Game Beyond Coronavirus

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As the global community is occupied with the coronavirus pandemic and saving lives, the regime in Tehran is focused on using the crisis for its own survival. Some argue the Iranian regime may not survive the coronavirus crisis. Others are warning that the regime is taking the people of Iran as hostages to this pandemic crisis. I argue that the regime’s deception and disinformation campaigns during this pandemic cannot be analyzed in a vacuum or divorced from its other repressive measures at home, hegemonic goals for the region, including the export of terrorism and nuclear expansion. For several weeks, the Islamic Republic of Iran denied the initial outbreak of the virus and sealed the news in order to move forward with the regime’s anniversary celebration and parliamentary elections in February. By March 1st, the death toll published by Iran’s main opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), was 10 times higher than the official figures inside Iran. On March 3rd, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, made his first official remarks about the virus, calling it a “blessing” and urged people to pray. Employing the typical tactics of denial, concealment coupled with arrests of whistleblowers and multifront disinformation campaigns, the entire regime rallied behind Khamenei’s narrative to downplay the virus and declare it “not a big deal.”

Peddling the false narrative about the coronavirus pandemic has given Iran’s regime an opportunity to reshuffle and strategize its domestic and foreign policy priorities. The embattled Khamenei has faced significant setbacks in the last 12 months. Many of the regimes’ own officials forecast the end of the Islamic Republic and toxic factional infighting has reached an all-time high. Some have even called for the removal of Khamenei. On the international front, the US continues to double down its sanctions as part of its maximum pressure policy since pulling out of the nuclear deal in May 2018. Moreover, the continuous breaches of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic have forced the Europeans to trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism. Their move was in response to Iran’s announcement that it will no longer be bound by the restrictions of the deal. As of February 21st, 2020, Iran is also blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) because it failed to comply with international anti-terrorism financing norms. This move came after months of political infighting, in which both Khamenei and Hassan Rouhani, the president, failed to resolve their differences and avoid further isolation from global financial markets.

On the home front, nationwide protests and two waves of back to back massive uprisings shook the foundation of the regime. Popular uprisings in late 2019 featured slogans “Down with Khamenei”, “Down with Rouhani”, “Our enemy is here, they lie and say it’s the US.” While the protests were sparked over Rouhani’s decision on fuel price hikes, within hours there was a nationwide uprising. Khamenei called on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with the warning that the “Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order.” The massive uprisings in 200 cities across Iran were met with bloody arrests and the massacre of 1500 people in the streets.

On January 3rd, Iran lost its........

© E-International