Australia/Israel Review

Sanctions and coronavirus in Iran

Mar 30, 2020 | Jonathan Tobin

Disinfection in Iran: Sanctions do not need to be lifted for Iran to get the medical supplies it needs
Disinfection in Iran: Sanctions do not need to be lifted for Iran to get the medical supplies it needs


The whole world is dealing with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but among the countries that have suffered the worst is Iran. And as far as some critics of the Trump Administration are concerned, the blame for the growing toll of the sick and dead in that country belongs to the United States.

Former members of President Barack Obama’s foreign-policy team are using the crisis as an excuse to re-litigate President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal and to reimpose sanctions on the Islamist regime. According to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, the continuing sanctions on Iran are a “moral abomination” that is leading to the deaths of innocent Iranians.

Rhodes is remembered for dubbing the Washington press corps his boss’s “media echo chamber” because of the ease with which Obama’s team manipulated them into repeating their often-duplicitous talking points favouring the nuclear pact. But in this case, he is acting as an echo chamber for the theocratic regime in Teheran, which has also been appealing to the world for sympathy because of the devastating impact of the coronavirus. They, too, are claiming that the economic sanctions that America has reinstated are the reason why so many of their people are dying from the virus.

A spokesperson for Iran’s UN mission claimed that Washington’s move in mid-March to add to the existing restrictions on Iran by sanctioning five international firms that were assisting Teheran’s efforts to sell its oil abroad was “beyond cruel” and demonstrated Trump’s lack of “humaneness.”

On the surface, these complaints about Trump’s policy seem reasonable. At a time when the world ought to be coming together and putting differences aside in order to fight the virus, why would the United States continue its efforts to isolate Iran? The pandemic’s impact on Iran has been particularly harsh with it suffering the fifth most reported cases and trailing only China and Italy in the number of reported coronavirus-related deaths, as of March 23.

Seen from that perspective, maintaining US sanctions on Iran at this time – let alone toughening them – does seem harsh or even vindictive.

But the argument in favour of lifting sanctions rests on a false assumption that the sanctions are preventing Iran from getting material that might alleviate the suffering there. Humanitarian aid and medical supplies are exempted by law from the American sanctions that much of the world has been forced – often reluctantly – to observe.

As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on March 20 at President Trump’s press conference about the coronavirus, the humanitarian channel to Iran is “wide open.” Indeed, the Administration offered to help Teheran fight the pandemic last month, as its spread there became an issue and weeks before Americans started treating the threat seriously.

The problem in Iran is twofold.

The toll of victims there is so high for the same reason that the virus killed so many people in China. As soon as cases of coronavirus emerged there, the despotic Iranian government sought to cover it up rather than to spread the alarm about the peril.

The Iranian people have good reason to find fault with the ayatollahs who rule them. Instead of devoting its oil wealth to helping its citizens, they have lavished it on foreign terrorist groups that serve as the regime’s auxiliaries, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. 

Rather than invest in their own people’s welfare, they have engaged in foreign adventures. Their intervention in the Syrian civil war, which helped keep their barbarous client – Bashar al-Assad and his terrorist partners – in power in Damascus, was a military success but did nothing to help ordinary Iranians. The same is true for all of the oil wealth that they have squandered on a nuclear program that Obama’s deal allowed to remain in existence, and thanks to that pact, will allow the regime to acquire nuclear weapons once the agreement expires.

There’s also the fact that both the country’s “Supreme Leader” – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – along with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime entity that both runs its foreign terrorist efforts and controls much of Iran’s economy, are sitting on vast fortunes that could alleviate much of their nation’s suffering. Instead, they continue to use their considerable resources to finance terrorism and keep a tight lid on dissent. 

The IRGC murdered hundreds of Iranians who protested against the regime’s misrule late last year, not to mention the many women who have been beaten and/or imprisoned for refusing to wear hijabs – a true war on women that most Western liberals have ignored.

While Trump’s critics want him to let up on his “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at forcing Iran to start behaving like a normal country and cease its terrorism, as well as give up any hope of a nuclear weapon, Teheran hasn’t let up on its misbehaviour. Iranian proxies are still attacking Americans in Iraq, and aiding terrorists in both Lebanon and Gaza, where they continue to push for conflict with Israel, which the regime has vowed to destroy.

While Americans are sympathetic to the suffering of Iranians, the answer to their problems is in efforts to force the regime to change its behaviour. The only way to do that is to continue Trump’s pressure campaign.

Iran’s leaders are counting on Trump being defeated in November. That’s why former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, ought to give them no encouragement and declare that the United States won’t return to Obama’s policy of appeasement. 

Reviving a failed nuclear deal that enriched and empowered the regime won’t help the Iranian people. It will just mean more grief and suffering for Iranians who were left vulnerable to oppression, as well as disease, by the cruelty of their own leaders and the naïveté of those who supported the nuclear pact.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS, the Jewish News Syndicate. © JNS (, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.


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