In a televised address, the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei claimed last week that the coronavirus pandemic has caused more than one million fatalities worldwide. This statement was given in spite of international organizations estimating the global number of virus-related deaths at just under 90,000. Khamenei also claimed that the ultimate remedy for the pandemic cannot be attained via science and technology, but through the manifestation of the 12th Imam and Shia Messiah, al-Mahdi. A descendent of Prophet Mohammed, al-Mahdi has been in absentia or “strategic hiding” for more than 1,000 years, since he was five years old.
This is not the first time Khamenei has made an outlandish statement with respect to the coronavirus situation in Iran and the global pandemic. In late March 2020, Khamenei claimed that the virus was a biological weapon manufactured by the US to target and destroy Iran. He also described a legion composed of human and Djinn – an imaginary, often malevolent being in Islamic mythology – that has been formed to fulfill the US’s mission.
These bizarre claims may very well be for domestic consumption, aiming to deceive pious and superstitious Iranians. Yet, Khamenei’s contrived campaign has reached beyond Iran’s borders and the mendacities of this sort are being disseminated around the world in some other form or fashion. The US is the specific target for this campaign. Crafted by the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, this campaign is being promulgated by pro-regime mouthpieces in the US, particularly members and affiliates of the National Iranian American Council. NIAC is a Washington-based organization notorious for spreading propaganda that favors the Iranian regime.
US sanctions against the regime are at the center of this propaganda and lobby operation. Pro-regime journalists, analysts, and policy experts in the US have been parroting Zarif’s talking points verbatim, suggesting that US sanctions not only contributed to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran, but are now impeding the appropriate management of this epidemic. This rhetoric has been pervasive and characterized by relentless, obstinate efforts to persuade the Trump Administration to ease sanctions on the mullah regime. The regime itself has admitted that this campaign was a scam that had nothing to do with managing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran. In a cabinet meeting in late March, the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani explicitly stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (aka Javad Zarif) initiated a “concerted effort” to influence public opinion with the intention of “bringing back our money seized in other countries.”
Read more in opinions: Iranians suffer from regime’s malpractice on coronavirus
While Zarif himself has been primarily active on social media directing the campaign, pro-regime talking heads have been sending emails and doggedly lobbying the US Congress. As an American legislator who is pathologically supportive of the mullahs in Iran, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has taken the lead on this campaign on the Capitol Hill and has effectively become the regime’s representative in Congress. Ignoring the fact the American people and her constituents in Minneapolis are equally grappling with the pandemic, she has been incessantly raising the issue on social media and to anyone who would listen. The climax of Omar’s efforts was a letter she put together with members of “The Squad” and signed by over two dozen other predominantly progressive congresspersons including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA).
The letter is addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, calling on them to ease sanctions on the Iranian regime vis-à-vis Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak. Both Pompeo and Mnuchin have repeatedly urged that humanitarian assistance to Iran is not subject to US sanctions. In fact, Pompeo recently reiterated the fact that the State Department became aware of the impending health crisis in Iran very early and offered assistance. Mnuchin took questions in early March from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), one of the progressive signatories to the letter, on the topic and gave the same reply – that the maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime precluded humanitarian trade. The Iranian regime refused and called any US aid that was not coupled with sanctions relief, “ridiculous.” On February 27, the Treasury Department granted broad authority to allow humanitarian transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.
Meanwhile, the regime continued purchasing medical supplies through various unconstrained channels, including the one set up by Switzerland, which completed an initial successful financial transaction in January 2020. A parallel effort was undertaken by Zarif in mid-March where he requested a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Similar to the call for sanctions relief, so far this request has not been granted by the IMF, and there is reason to believe that it was outright rejected.
Nevertheless, regime mouthpieces in the US have not relented. NIAC’s president Jamal Abdi wrote a letter to the IMF asking for the financial institution to approve the requested loan, dismissing the notion that cash issued to the regime will be spent on support of terrorism and the regime’s own economic ambitions. Abdi wrote, “the systems your institutions have put in place, will ensure the support reaches the intended beneficiaries.” This claim is, of course, absurd since the IMF does not have an established system to specifically monitor how the money is spent. NIAC’s president further contended, “We urge you to help the Iranian people, as you have in the past.”
He insinuates that the IMF has dispensed loans to Iran in the past. This is also false. Iran has never received a loan from the IMF. Iran’s late monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi applied for a line of credit that was active from 1960 to 1962. This was not a loan in any way, shape, or form. Lastly in his letter, Abdi claimed NIAC has over 65,000 supporters in the US, which has been repeatedly proven to be a myth.
Abdi wrote this request on behalf of his proclaimed 65,000 Iranian-American supporters in retaliation to a previous letter written by 53 Iranian activists, journalists, scholars, and academicians asking the IMF not to issue cash to the regime and instead, help the Iranian people via provision of medical equipment and supplies. A video compilation was also published on social media wherein several Iranians from around the world asked the Trump Administration not the ease sanctions on the regime.
The Islamist regime is ravenously in search of cash and could care less about medical equipment or personnel to address the COVID-19 epidemic in Iran. The evidence for this includes the regime’s persistent refusal to cooperate with Financial Action Task Force, the world's top anti-terrorism and money laundering monitoring group, refusing humanitarian aid from the US, and untimely expulsion of physician volunteers from Doctors Without Border (Médecins Sans Frontières) who were planning on assembling a 50-bed inflatable treatment unit with an emergency team of nine people in Isfahan. There are also reports of hoarding medical supplies furnished by international organizations for profit. Many Iranians speculate that the hoarding is perpetuated by the regime itself, and in particular by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Unconfirmed reports also indicate that a 20-million-euro humanitarian aid package sent by the European Union to Iran was then forwarded to Syria and Iraq immediately and without a penny less.
The Khamenei virus has afflicted other US politicians as well. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) recently issued a statement making a similar plea for lifting sanctions on the Iranian regime. Even the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for presidency, Joe Biden, called for sanctions relief, though he faced criticism that his plea lacked vigor. Perhaps the most curious case of all is that of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who had a secret rendezvous with Zarif in Munich in February 2020, the details of which he never revealed. Murphy has become a fixture on the front page of the regime’s newspapers in Iran as the heroic US senator who has embarked on a crusade against the evil empire of Donald Trump in favor of the mullahs.
It seems Democrats with a political agenda who have an axe to grind with President Trump are more susceptible to contracting the Khamenei virus. They release statements calling on sanctions relief without reviewing or knowing the details, and deliberately ignore statements by the State and Treasury Departments that humanitarian aid is not subject to sanctions. They also tend to be oblivious to the reality that as they buy into Zarif’s ruse to procure cash, the regime continues its support of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Furthermore, as the Iranian people continue to fight for their lives in the ongoing outbreak, the IRGC continues to launch missiles at its leisure on targets in Iraq, threatening the lives of American servicemen. By far, however, the most daunting fact that is almost always overlooked is Khamenei’s wealth of nearly $200 billion, which he refuses to touch even during humanitarian crises and natural disasters in Iran.
The Iranian people are, nevertheless, not duped so easily. Following the Islamist dictator’s outlandish statements, angry Iranians from around the globe took to Twitter to criticize and ridicule him using the hashtag #KhameneiVirus. This hashtag became a trend in several countries including the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. It is being used to this day. Iranians are warning the world – particularly US politicians of the Democratic Party – of the virulence and toxicity of the Khamenei virus, which is becoming a pandemic in its own right, conceivably far deadlier than COVID-19.
Dr. Reza Behrouz is an Iranian-American physician and dissident based in San Antonio, Texas. He is a member of the Constitutionalist Party of Iran. He can be followed on Twitter @RBehrouzDO.