Tehran, Iran – “If we go to war, it will push us back a hundred years. Do I like going to war? No, but I’ll go if I have to,” Amirhossein Eliasi, who runs a fruit shop in central Tehran, told Al Jazeera.
This fatalistic sentiment seems to carry the day among many Iranians in the capital on Friday, a day after a military escalation that, according to US President Donald Trump, brought the two nations to the edge of open conflict.
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Indeed, a quick loss of temper by Trump or a simple miscalculation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could drag the country’s population of 80 million into a devastating war with the United States, many Iranians fear.
But despite the looming threat, many seem to stoically go about their daily lives, too busy to make ends meet amid crippling US sanction, put in place by Trump after he unilaterally exited his country out of the 2015 nuclear deal last year in May.
Trump said on Friday that he cancelled, at the last minute, a military strike on Iran, which he said he ordered in retaliation against the shooting down of a US surveillance drone. The IRGC says it shot down the US Global Hawk drone with a surface-to-air missile on Thursday, after giving out several warnings for it to leave Iran‘s airspace. Washington says the drone was hit while flying over international waters.
The US president said he aborted the planned attack on three sites, which US military advisers estimated could kill 150 Iranians. Trump said he stopped the attack because it would not be a proportionate response to the destruction of the drone.
“They had sent a plane to gather information on our country,” Eliasi, the fruit seller, told Al Jazeera. “The IRGC did the right thing to shoot it down,” he added.
“My job is to run a shop and I’m not an educated person. But what I see is that Trump is a crazy person. I swear to God he is crazy. He needs to be confronted,” the 50-year-old told Al Jazeera on Friday.
Since the start of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, much has changed for Iran’s middle class; costs of doing business and living expenses have skyrocketed. The sanctions, including those aiming to bring Iran’s vital oil exports to zero, have led to a nearly 60 percent drop in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial.
The economic crisis has taken its toll on Eliasi’s business, too. Now, he says, his earnings cover the costs of his shop alone and he hardly makes enough money to take care of his family, including his 10-year-old daughter, Bahar, present at the shop to help her father.
“If they come and give us a couple of slaps in the face, am I supposed to just stand there and watch?” Eliasi asks rhetorically.
“The government should either make concessions or stand and fight. I would be the first person to fight in a war. And I know that America can’t do anything. They have more to lose than me and you.”
Reza recently finished his military service in his hometown in northeastern Iran and now started working in the capital to build a life.
“If there is war, I won’t be happy but maybe it is better that way. The country is already a mess,” the 20-year-old shopkeeper told Al Jazeera.
Others are less pessimistic.
“I don’t think there will be a war,” Pooria, a software engineer told Al Jazeera. “But maybe that’s just wishful thinking,” she quickly added.
“I was horrified this morning when I saw the news. I never thought the threat was so close. But after I read the news, I realised … a careless incident like hitting a ship or shooting a plane could easily mess things up. And the level of foolishness on both sides is high. It’s like a childish dare game.”
The 35-year-old resident of eastern Tehran blames the current situation on Washington’s moves in the past months.
“If a war starts, it is America’s fault. It is America’s fault a hundred percent,” she said.
“The US left the nuclear deal. They shouldn’t have left the deal. If Iran has other interests in the region, you need to sit and talk about those but you should not leave an existing deal. This led to mistrust. Because of this move, hardliners here can argue that the US cannot be trusted. And this could shut the door to any new negotiations.”
Maximum pressure policy
The Trump administration says its “maximum pressure” policy aims to force Iran to negotiate a new nuclear deal that should also address Iran’s ballistic missile programme, as well as regional military activities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed Iran has abided by the nuclear deal, but Tehran has threatened to breach its commitments, if the EU and other parties fail to help Iran benefit economically from the accord.
Iran has said it will not negotiate under pressure.
Aram, a 27-year-old art graduate, said despite carelessness on both sides, she was positive that talks could be in progress through back channels.
“A war is not in the regime’s best interest,” she told Al Jazeera. “I’m against war or a revolution. I want reforms. I want good changes to happen [through a peaceful process], even though this seems far-fetched.”
The psychological burden of Iran’s escalated tensions with the US, has been pushing many young people to leave the country, applying for universities abroad or using other means to emigrate.
The effect of the standoff has been felt even by Bahar, Eliasi’s 10-year-old daughter.
“This is what it is and we can’t fix it,” she told Al Jazeera, standing next to her father.
“It is America’s, Trump’s and Iran’s fault. If they never fought and they lived in peace, these things wouldn’t have happened. And people wouldn’t have to flee their own country.”