Across the Middle East, the coronavirus is stirring up both upheavals and more subtle changes from Tel Aviv to Riyadh, little reported and when covered little understood in the Western media.
In Israel, the virus has enabled that master political magician Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pull off yet another spectacular escape as improbable as any in a James Bond or Star Wars movie to remain in power indefinitely.
After matching him in three successive national elections, Blue and White opposition leader, former Army Chief of Staff retired Lieutenant General Benny Gantz finally blinked: Because of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, he agreed to enter into a coalition with Netanyahu leading it for the first 18 months.
This is more than enough time for Netanyahu, a master political infighter and intriguer to splinter Blue and White into fragments. Indeed, Gantz has already done the biggest part of the job for him.
His own top allies in the new party, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid and former Defense Minister and Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon both firmly opposed any agreement to compromise with Netanyahu refused to go along with it. Currently, even Gantz and Netanyahu have not yet finalized their agreement, but Netanyahu has seized the initiative from him. His record in power over the past decade suggests he will not release it easily.
Netanyahu can at least boast that his lockdown has kept Israel relatively isolated from the pandemic. That is not the case in Iran, which boasts close trade and energy ties with China and where the virus has been raging ferociously.
That of course, is also the case in the United States. Extremist US hawks have been gloating – hopefully – that the crisis in Iran might discredit and topple the government there. That seems very unlikely at the moment.
What remains possible is that if the virus does significantly “decapitate” the current leadership in Tehran, more extreme and unpredictable rather than more moderate figures may take over more ready to act on provocations from Washington rather than play them down.
In Saudi Arabia, the virus may also have unpredictable “cushion shot” – surprise ricochet – effects.