Within hours, Iranians began showing up at various sites in the country to protest the ineptitude of the regime. The airliner fiasco demonstrated a catastrophic failure by the military that Iranians should be able to depend upon to defend their country.

How Iranian security forces respond to new protests will be a key factor in determining the future of the regime. If they attempt to suppress this public anger over an act of senseless aggression that killed 176 innocent people, they will exacerbate their already massive credibility problem.

A more conciliatory action could lead to a short-term cooling of tensions, but it would also be an expression of weakness, something a regime that claims to draw its leadership from the divine is loath to do. There have been precious few instances in the Islamic republic’s 40-year history when authorities have admitted mistakes.

This time around, the regime will continue to try to blame the United States, but that refrain rings increasingly hollow.