Iran’s fever dream, could it exploit COVID-19 to lift sanctions?

It is Iran’s fever dream to deceitfully spin its COVID-19 crisis to break the three-year stranglehold of US economic sanctions.

A man wearing a protective face mask, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sits at a bus stop in Qom, Iran March 24, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man wearing a protective face mask, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sits at a bus stop in Qom, Iran March 24, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After initially attempting to cover-up the parameters of the devastating COVID-19 outbreak in Iran, Tehran’s government quickly reversed course and announced it was facing a health emergency that was endangering its entire population. 
 
Iran begrudgingly admitted its dangerous policy of refusing to implement health regulations allowed the epidemic to spin out of control. Since then, the pivotal message being pedaled is that the massive numbers of serious cases and coronavirus deaths was solely attributable to the American economic sanctions snapped back by US President Donald Trump’s administration after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. In the ensuing weeks, pressure has begun to mount internationally – including from Europe, the World Health Organization, UN and the US’s Democratic Party – to suspend the sanctions, and even provide the Iranians with gigantic loans, to help it combat the virus – all in the name of humanitarian concerns. 
 
It is Iran’s fever dream to deceitfully spin its COVID-19 crisis to break the three-year stranglehold of US economic sanctions.
 
Neither the US nor Israel should be beguiled by the regime’s unwarranted pleas, nor succumb to insincere humanitarian requests to reduce the economic pressure. Instead, the US should utilize all its influence with the International Monetary Fund  to block Iranian requests for loans. Additionally, the US, Israel, and other clear-thinking allies, should be creatively trying to use the COVID-19 emergency and the dismal state of the oil industry to escalate tactics and decisively force this rogue regime to abandon its nuclear pursuits, terrorist financing and rocket program. 
 
The combined Iranian health crisis and global oil glut is a unique opportunity to economically whack Tehran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palsetinian Islamic Jihad and reduce their capabilities that should not be missed. 
 
First, there is no extraordinary economic crisis in Iran. Despite the US sanctions, the regime still reportedly has sovereign wealth reserves of more than $100 billion. This is more than enough funds to provide health care, medicine and food to its population during the current situation. Iran does not need additional aid, it needs to be dissuaded from its massive spending on criminal pursuits globally and compelled to prioritize its national focus. 
 
Not a week has gone by that Tehran has not continued to fund its terrorist proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. If the regime has the money to maintain its position as paymaster-in-chief for international terrorism and carry out deadly attacks against American and allied interests, it should not be assisted financially, nor provided any economic assistance to aid its own population. 
Medical supplies, including drugs, face masks and ventilators, have always been permitted to Iran for import despite the American sanctions. Iran’s claims of medical shortages are of its own making. Moreover, neither the IMF, Europeans nor the UN has the slightest ability to ensure that any funds that make their way into the regime’s hands would be used to fight the pandemic or benefit its civilian population. In the past, Iran has shown it will always covertly divert large parts of its budget, including humanitarian aid, to advance its terrorist pursuits worldwide. The international community has no means of safeguarding that these funds will not be utilized to further destabilize the MIddle East. 
 
In the face of fierce opposition and betrayals by the EU, Russia and China, the Trump administration has heroically spent the last three years attempting to bring Iran to its economic knees and curb its terrorist capacities with sanctions. The efforts have been largely successful and now is not the time to ease up. 
 
In a recent letter sent by prominent Iranian dissidents living in Europe to the IMF, these exiled human rights activists urged that Tehran not be provided any international loans. They noted Iran already had adequate funds available to fight the virus and was creating a fake dilemma. Instead, they insisted: “We have strong reservations with respect to the provisions of direct financial support by the IMF to the government of Iran and respectfully urge the IMF and the international community to focus their efforts and goodwill on helping the Iranian people through direct and well-targeted provisions of medical supplies and technical capabilities... We have the firm view that constant claims of the government of Iran in international media about problems with the import of medical supplies are misleading and based on inaccurate claims.”
 
In the past, Iran has threatened that any military action against it, or increased economic sanctions, could result in the Iranian navy blocking the movement of oil through the Persian Gulf. A large portion of the world’s oil is shipped through the region and an Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic chokehold, could significantly hamper global oil movements. As a result, Tehran has menaced that if attacked or destabilized it would send global oil prices soaring.
 
Recently, however, as a result of oil production disputes between major players, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US, oil prices have plunged to a historic low. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and the disruption of industries such as airline transportation, there is a global oil surplus. The world today is a lot less dependent on oil shipped through the Persian Gulf and Iran’s blockade threat has largely evaporated for the moment. The reduced price of oil leaves Tehran vulnerable to increased sanctions by the US and its allies and would be greatly hampered in retaliating against a military strike. If there ever was a political opportunity for a US lead assault against Iran, with the world so distracted and oil reserves so abundant, now would seem to be the time. 
 
When a terrorist regime such as Iran threatens the Jewish state with genocide and annihilation, even if we doubt their current military capabilities to act, we cannot ignore their plain words. 
 
Does anyone question that the day the COVID-19 crisis ends, the ayatollahs in Tehran will be back to their threats to incinerate Tel Aviv and annihilate Israelis? Iran continues to fund Hezbollah and works toward providing it with rockets. Those who boldly threaten and plot genocide against the Jewish state must be fought relentlessly. If they temporarily stumble, fall ill or are weakened, we are still morally obliged to escalate our efforts against them. Would we be so misguided or blinded by wrong notions of mercy or faulty ethical considerations so as to nurse our Iranian enemies back to health, so they have the strength to launch their rockets against us? The Iranian health crisis and reduced Iranian threat to disrupt oil shipping is a heaven-sent opportunity to increase sanctions and devastate Iran economically, perhaps militarily as well. 
 
We dare not squander it with misguided goodwill or pity. 
 
The writer is the president of the Shurat HaDin Law Center


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