Danon to 'Post': Sanctions on Iran must not be lifted for coronavirus

For years, the regime has diverted international aid money intended to help its people. It plundered the cash windfall from the nuclear agreement, choosing to spend it on its regional terror network.

No sanctions relief for Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)
No sanctions relief for Iran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the world reels from the human and financial toll of the coronavirus, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for “an immediate global ceasefire” so nations can marshal resources to help those countries hit hardest from the global pandemic.
Included in that group is Iran, which has more than 40,000 cases of the virus and almost 3,000 fatalities, and is under severe international economic and other sanctions by the United States and the UN.
In response, some have called for the US to lift sanctions to help the regime fight the virus. On Twitter, Sen. Bernie Sanders said “US sanctions should not be contributing to [Iran’s] humanitarian disaster” and “we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis.” Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for former president Barack Obama, called continuing to enforce sanctions while Iran’s “people die because of a virus that threatens all humanity” a “moral abomination.”
However, Sanders, Rhodes and others are conflating sanctions relief with humanitarian aid, which Israel supports. The belief that lifting sanctions would do anything but empower the regime at the expense of the Iranian people is foolish and dangerous.
Iran is in a terrible situation because of its endemic corruption. Like other authoritarian responses to the coronavirus outbreak, Iran withheld information and imprisoned whistleblowers. The government allowed daily commercial flights to and from China, and propagated the lie that the US engineered the virus. Only once regime leaders started falling ill and dying did it become clear that the situation could no longer be contained. Now the regime has the gall to ask for medical supplies and sanctions relief.
Rhodes and the echo chamber that pushed for the Iran nuclear deal are now gullible enough to side with the regime, erroneously believing that lifting sanctions would help the Iranian people. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Last year, European nations sent Iran an aid package of a billion euros to purchase medical supplies to help the people. In a press conference last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that the regime stole most of that money, using it to acquire protective equipment for regime leaders against the virus and line their pockets.
This should come as no surprise. For years, the regime has diverted international aid money intended to help its people. It plundered the cash windfall from the nuclear agreement, choosing to spend it on its regional terror network.
To the tune of over $7b. annually, Iran and its proxies have killed American soldiers in Iraq, propped up President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, expanded Hezbollah’s arsenal of missiles in Lebanon, cemented Hamas’s grip in the Gaza Strip and sunk Yemen into a civil war. And instead of building new schools, hospitals and infrastructure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has used his position to amass a personal fortune of over $200b.
The reflexive desire to help those suffering, particularly under an authoritative regime, is admirable. However, in Iran’s case, instead of sanctions relief, the focus should be on providing humanitarian aid in the form of medical equipment to help the Iranian people.
Israel wants to see Iranian hospitals and doctors empowered with the necessary resources to help everyone inflicted with the virus. It is clear that the sooner the world stops this disease anywhere is better for everyone everywhere. And Israel does not want the Iranian people paying for the sins of the authoritarian regime.
However, the help cannot come at the cost of lifting sanctions intended to end Iran’s nuclear program and terrorism campaigns.
This week, Iran is expected to bring the issue of international sanctions relief before the UN Security Council. They will try to leverage Secretary-General Guterres’s entreaty and have the council pressure the US and other member states to provide relief by lifting sanctions.
Instead, a different conversation should be taking place in Turtle Bay. In less than seven months, the UN arms embargo, the first of the nuclear agreement’s sunset provisions, will expire. Beginning on October 18, the Iranian regime will be able to openly import and export advanced weapons, which it will use to arm its regional proxies and advance its missile program.
We all hope that one day soon the world will overcome the global pandemic. And on that day, the Iranian regime will still be pursuing its nuclear ambitions and strengthening its terror network.
Israel remains in favor of providing humanitarian aid to the Iranian people. But as long as the regime continues its malevolent activities, sanctions must remain in place.
The writer is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.