An extraordinary situation has developed in Iran where public anger against the American drone attack to kill Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani turned into resentment against the government after the admission that a soldier had brought down an Ukrainian airliner by firing a missile. The internal unrest, with students protesting the death of their young colleagues heading to Canada for higher studies, led to a show of force in which some protesters were even shot in the back.
A contrite Revolutionary Guards chief apologised profusely for the “human error” which killed 176 passengers. However, as the protesters look inwards seeking answers, the fear is that unrest may embolden those pressing to confront the US, still seen as the cause for Iran’s troubles. This isn’t the first time a passenger aircraft has become unfortunate collateral damage in US-Iran confrontations over the years.
The US brought down an Iranian aircraft in 1988. The qualitative difference between then and now is that the US and Iran are barely back from the brink of war, even after Donald Trump’s statement acknowledged Iran was not seeking to escalate hostilities any further. A volley of eight rockets was still fired on Sunday at bases in Iraq from where most American troops have been relocated after weeks of tension. What adds doses of anxiety to the Gulf situation is the rockets and mortar fire on Iran-US bases, that could lead to a return of confrontation, despite Iran’s deadlier missile attacks having come after early warning.
Internal compulsions may be holding back President Trump as the Democrats try to restrict his military manoeuvres with Iran. History records that itching for war has served US Presidents seeking a second term very well, which is why offering to mediate between Mr Trump and Ayatollah Khamenei might be futile now, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi is more than willing to play peacemaker.