Iran must put fighting virus above military adventurism
Coronavirus disease cases are spiking again in Iran after the regime loosened restrictions. According to official figures, there have been more than 133,000 coronavirus cases and 7,000 deaths in Iran due to the virus. But a recent report by the research arm of the regime’s own parliament estimated that the true number of infections is likely “eight to 10 times” higher than reported. And, based on the latest report by opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, coronavirus had claimed the lives of more than 41,200 people across the country as of May 13.
Even though Iran is among the hardest-hit countries in the world, the regime seems to be furthering its aggression and military adventurism in the region rather than protecting its citizens with appropriate measures, such as assisting hospitals and advancing the country’s health care system. For example, a satellite image and report this month revealed that the Iranian regime is building an underground advanced weapons facility at the Imam Ali military base in Al-Bukamal, Syria, which is near the Iraqi border. Al-Bukamal has become a center for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and various Shiite militias.
Iran’s move to strengthen its stranglehold in Syria is a serious military provocation. It is also aimed at increasing its presence near Israel in order to undermine the latter’s national security. As Abbas Nilforoushan, IRGC deputy commander of operations, threatened in an interview with the Iranian news agency Tasnim last year: “Israel is not in a position to threaten Iran. Iran has encircled Israel from all four sides.”
Israel has become increasingly concerned about Iran’s growing influence in Syria. Tehran’s military provocations have ratcheted up instability in the region and Israel has responded by launching cruise missiles toward Iranian and Syrian military positions. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria, reportedly killing or wounding several Iranians.
Tehran’s military provocations have ratcheted up instability in the region.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the regime has also been engaging in military posturing in the region, particularly near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil passes. During one of its most recent military exercises, a missile struck a support ship, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15 others. This was the second time this year that people have been “accidentally” killed due to the regime’s militaristic actions. In January, amid overwhelming evidence and pressure, the regime admitted it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet. It said that it was due to “human error,” but both incidents most likely occurred due to the regime’s military adventurism and recklessness.
The naval training incident occurred less than a month after six US ships were harassed by a flotilla of armed speedboats. The boats, which belonged to the IRGC Navy (IRGCN), circled the US ships in a dangerous manner, as described by the US Navy: “The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the US vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50-yard closest point of approach and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.” The US Navy last week warned it would take “lawful defensive measures” against any vessels that come within 100 meters of its warships in the Gulf.
The regime needs to listen to its health practitioners, doctors and nurses rather than continuing to hemorrhage a significant amount of money on its pursuit of military adventurism. Many hospitals have reached their capacity, doctors and nurses are exhausted, their salaries have been delayed, and there is a shortage of personal protective equipment. As one nurse at the Razi University Hospital in Rasht complained: “Unfortunately, we have very little equipment. The gown I’m wearing is not adequate at all. In every shift, I must give a new mask to my patient. I must give a mask and gloves to his companion. Unfortunately, gowns and personal protective equipment are very scarce.” Another nurse working at a hospital in Qazvin said: “The medical staff are exhausted… We are getting sick one after the other and going out of work, leaving the burden of work on others. We may again have a very severe peak. This is serious. All beds have been full since the day I came here.” It is worth noting that the average monthly salary of a nurse in Iran is only about $220.
In conclusion, instead of ratcheting up its military adventurism in the region, the Iranian regime must de-escalate tensions and focus on protecting its citizens from the coronavirus pandemic.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh