While both Tehran and Washington face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the U.S. remain locked in retaliatory pressure campaigns that now view the outbreak as just the latest battleground, The Associated Press reported.
Tehran now seeks to sway international opinion on U.S. sanctions by highlighting its struggles with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Iran asked for $5 billion from the International Monetary Fund even as it enriches uranium beyond the limits of its 2015 deal with world powers, AP added.
Washington, which unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 under President Donald Trump, insists that aid can reach Iran – though humanitarian organizations say Washington’s sanctions disrupt even permitted trade.
At the same time, the U.S. is now withdrawing troops from Iraqi bases, redeployments it insists are pre-planned even as Trump alleges Iran plans “a sneak attack” against them, AP noted.
The risk of open conflict between the countries is overshadowed by the pandemic. However, it is still there – some say at levels as high as immediately after the January drone strike by the U.S. that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.
“After Soleimani’s killing, everybody thought there will be war, but nothing happened,” said Mahsa Rouhi, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Whereas we were so close to war that it’s not that nothing happened. And we are not back to normal. … We are back to a situation where any move could easily escalate into a conflict.”
The current tensions can seem trivial, compared to the pandemic, which has infected at least 1.9 million people worldwide and killed over 119,000. This perception has been helped by mocking social media posts from the U.S. State Department and a former leader of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard seemingly backing the fringe idea of California seceding from the U.S, AP added.
The stakes, however, are anything but. The night Iran retaliated for the Soleimani killing, it also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people aboard. Allied Shiite militias in Iraq also continue to threaten American forces deployed there in the aftermath of the fight against the Daesh group.