Most democratic governments would fall immediately if they were found to have shot down a civilian airliner and then tried to cover it up. Iran, however, is not a democracy, and despite Saturday's humiliating admission that it did, in fact, shoot down Ukraine Airlines flight PS752, there is little chance of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or his acolytes stepping down. Instead, the strategy appears to be blame low-level officials for the tragedy. According to President Hassan Rouhani, all those responsible for the "terrible catastrophe" will be identified and prosecuted, be it the military commanders who fired the fatal shot on Wednesday or the hapless media spokesmen who peddled denials for three days afterwards. Everyone, in other words, except Mr Khamenei - who, by virtue of his very title of Supreme Leader, is where the buck should surely stop. Still, having to perform such a rare act of public contrition may well inhibit Iran from further retaliation over America's assassination of General Qasem Solaimani. What is more, this dreadful and hugely embarrassing episode may also ruin what remains of the regime's credibility with its own people. Where Flight PS752 disappeared from the radar in Iran Iranians have long been used to their rulers peddling lies and state propaganda. But for them to be caught out telling such a whopper in public fashion is almost unprecedented. After all, if they can fib to the world about manslaughtering 167 innocent people, what else have they been covering up? As Siamak Ghaesmi, a Tehran-based economist, put it to the country's leaders in an Instagram post: “I don’t know what to do with my rage and grief. I’m thinking of all the ‘human errors’ in these years that were never revealed because there was no international pressure." Already, the regime has tried to create a degree of wriggle room for Mr Khamenei by claming that while Iran's armed forces had known that a missile had hit the plane "minutes after the incident", he had not been informed until Friday night. Flight recorder recovered from Ukranian airliner Credit: Wana/Reuters That though, simply underlines the government's own dysfunctionality. Why was the Supreme Leader kept in the dark about such a key piece of information? And are Iran's missile defence forces really so inept that they can't distinguish between a marauding US B52 bomber and a civilian plane leaving their own airport? The question now is whether the fiasco may also re-galvanise Iran's opposition movements into taking to the streets again. Last November, the government raised fuel prices massively to offset the drain on its coffers caused by Donald Trump's sanctions on oil sales. It sparked huge anti-government protests, which the security forces eventually snuffed out by shooting dead up to 1500 people, a massacre not much short of Tiananmen. Yet no amount of brutality can stop ordinary Iranians' weariness at being impoverished by international sanctions and hugely costly military adventures abroad. In the past decade, Iran's Revolutionary Guard have expanded their network of proxies all over the Middle East, waging majors in Syria and Yemen and continuing to meddle in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. As The Telegraph reports today, Tehran's agents have even been trying to set up terror cells in the Central African Republic - 3,000 miles from Persia, and a world away from the concerns of ordinary Iranians. What forced Flight PS752 to crash in Iran Can the regime really continue to afford do that, when its own people are struggling to afford food for the table? After all, it is now also facing the prospect of a massive compensation pay-out from both Ukraine and Canada over the deaths of those killed on Flight PS752. Whether Iranians will now return to the streets to protest, only coming days will tell. Either way, though, the regime may have finally twigged that it is time to focus less on killing "enemies" abroad, and more on the welfare of its own people.
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