Coronavirus ‘Truce’: The Guns Falling Silent Across the Middle East

The novel coronavirus pandemic has thus far verified an adapted version of the saying – attributed to a Soviet Union official during WWII and paraphrased by Truman Capote – that "When the guns roar, the muses are silent."

But our reality now is that when the virus roars and spreads, the guns are silenced. A sudden, relative quiet reverberates across the Middle East – one of the most troubled and violent regions on earth. From Iran to Libya, from Syria to Yemen and from Israel to Lebanon, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, the number of violent incidents has dramatically diminished. 

– Israel’s coronavirus crisis could be Bibi’s swan song. Haaretz weekly podcast

Israel’s coronavirus crisis could be Bibi’s swan song. Haaretz weekly podcast

Guns may crush creativity, but the coronavirus –  the uncertainty and fear of the unknown – is paralyzing familiar patterns of behavior. 

But the region is drastically unused to this form of force majeure – and can’t sustain zero violence. In recent days, three soldiers – two from the U.S., one from the UK –  were killed in an attack in Iraq, most probably by a pro-Iranian militia; in response, U.S. warplanes and drones hit militia positions killing a few Iraqi militiamen and, in an unconfirmed reports, a senior Iranian officer. In the West Bank, a 15 year-old Palestinian boy was killed after clashes with Israeli troops.

Leaders and military commanders of sworn enemies are pre-occupied by the coronavirus crisis. They have had to put the mindset of violent provocation and retaliation on hold. Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard minimal inflammatory rhetoric and only small doses of aggression. That modified behavior is the same regardless of whether those national or factional leaders really care for their people’s health and well-being or are acting out of fear that public rage will turn against them and destabilize their power base or regime. 

People pass in front the emergency entrance of the government-run Rafik Hariri Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon, March 11, 2020Hussein Malla,AP

We’ve even heard declarations that are so surprising it’s no exaggeration to dub them as unprecedented. The terror group that sanctifies violence, ISIS, issued instructions for how to deal with the virus which were almost identical to the rest of the world, from handwashing to avoiding travel within Europe – with one exception – a strong emphasis on relying on Allah.

In Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi declared a few days ago that it was permitted to use an Israeli anti-corona vaccine "if there is no other alternative." That was in response to reports that were, at the least, dramatically premature: that Israel’s Institute for Biological Research had already developed a corona vaccine. The institute and private laboratories are working on it, but openly admitted that it would take many months probably a year to research, develop and produce an effective and reliable vaccine.