Iran: ‘Zionists Developed the Coronavirus’

Medics treat a patient infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 8, 2020. With the approaching Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, officials kept up pressure on people not to travel and to stay home. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who gave Iran's new …
AP Photo/Mohammad Ghadamali

Having already speculated that the coronavirus is an American-made biological weapon, the Iranian regime took the next natural step over the weekend and claimed the disease was created by “Zionists” who want to start a war with Iran.

The Jerusalem Post noted that Iran’s state-run PressTV “has been pushing antisemitic conspiracies about the coronavirus to distract from the mullah regime’s mishandling of the pandemic.” 

The conspiracies are coming straight from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated terrorist organization and one of the most powerful forces in Iranian economics, politics, and foreign policy:

On March 5, Press TV claimed that “Zionist elements developed a deadlier strain of coronavirus against Iran.” Although the report claimed to reference a foreign “academic,” it fits the pattern of Iran using foreign experts to give the regime’s own views a patina of authority. The agenda of Tehran has been three-fold since the coronavirus outbreak began to affect Iran in mid-February. Iran initially denied that there was a virus outbreak so that it could increase voter turnout for the February 21 election.

In late February, it turned out that some of Iran’s leading politicians and key insiders were infected because the virus had spread from the holy city of Qom to Tehran. To make up for the initial cover-up, the regime shifted its narrative to blaming US sanctions for its inability to control the virus. Already regime leaders were beginning to compare the virus to sanctions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had first downplayed the virus, claiming that like sanctions, it looked worse than it was. Then on March 7, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif argued that the sanctions had “drained Iran’s resources needed in the fight against” the virus. He called it “medical terrorism.”

However, the IRGC had other ideas. Its leader, Hossein Salami, began telling people the virus was “biological warfare” derived from the US. “We are now dealing with a biological war,” he said on March 5. He argued it “may be the product of American biological warfare.”

The IRGC’s narrative quickly became Press TV’s talking point. An article on the homepage on March 8 links to the claim that the US is waging “biological warfare” and also cites an article that argues Israel is behind the virus. According to this article, a “former CIA officer” has argued that “the US and Israel are working together.”

The Iranian regime has a great deal to distract its people from. As the Jerusalem Post mentioned, the regime’s determination to plow ahead with questionable elections in the crucial early days of the outbreak is certainly one of the reasons it spread so quickly through Iran.

The Atlantic on Monday was one of many outside observers to assume Iran is lying about how many coronavirus cases it has, in the hope of containing public fear and anger. Both the number of mortalities and the number of highly visible public figures who have contracted the virus in Iran are much too high for the roughly 7,000 cases it has admitted to:

If COVID-19 is so rare—fewer than 400 cases had been reported in Iran by the day she announced her diagnosis—what are the chances that one of the afflicted would be a famous politician? Soon we learned of three other senior officials who not only contracted the virus but were killed by it: Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a senior advisory council to Iran’s supreme leader, and Hossein Sheikholeslam and Hadi Khosrowshahi, both former high-level diplomats. Mohammad Sadr, another member of the council, announced his infection last week, as did Ebtekar’s fellow cabinet member Reza Rahmani. Recently, the speaker of parliament said 23 of his fellow members of parliament had tested positive. Two of them, Mohammad Ali Ramezani (February 29) and Fatemeh Rehber (March 7), have died.

That’s a lot of tainted apples, statistically speaking. Why would Iran lie? On February 21, Iran conducted the latest in a series of sham elections in which only government-selected candidates could run for office. To show disapproval, many Iranians refuse to vote, and as participation has dropped, the appearance of electoral legitimacy has dropped as well. Iran’s government told its people that the United States had hyped COVID-19 to suppress turnout, and Tehran vowed to punish anyone spreading rumors about a serious epidemic. Forty-three percent of Iranians voted, unaware that the outbreak had already begun. Quick action could have allowed quarantines to be put in place. Instead Iran greased its own path toward the most catastrophic outbreak in modern history.

Other indicators that the Iranian regime is concealing a large number of coronavirus cases are the rates of infection noted in travelers from Iran, the high number of Iranian hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients, and the number of responses to an online survey conducted by the government. All of those indicators suggest nearly ten times as many cases as Iran has admitted to.

The situation depicted on Iranian social media looks much worse than the government’s estimates as well, with correspondents describing overflowing hospital wards and frightened villagers throwing up roadblocks to halt refugees from the major outbreak cities.

The Hill ran an op-ed by former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis on Saturday that charged Iran with being just as “deceitful” as the Chinese, but with far less “capacity to take real action”:

The Iranian government was aware many weeks ago that it had a problem on its hands, but paranoid and determined at all times to project a false image of invincibility, it did what it typically does. It lied. It covered up. It avoided taking any action that might suggest that it was anything less than infallible.

Flights to and from China continued unabated. Pilgrims to Shia shrines were allowed to move freely as if their piety would protect them from illness. The holy city of Qom, epicenter of the virus in Iran, remains crowded with worshippers. They are jammed into crowded, unsanitary conditions, coughing, sneezing and exchanging germs by licking holy shrines in hope the epidemic will spare them.

“Mismanagement, religious fanaticism and terror are a lethal combination,” Faddis observed.

Sunday was Iran’s deadliest day since the outbreak began, with 49 deaths reported, assuming the government figures can be trusted. Iran’s biggest holiday, Nowruz or Persian New Year, is approaching, raising concerns about public depression or anger if celebrations are canceled. 

Israel’s Haaretz on Monday sardonically suggested the Iranian regime can at least be thankful that its subjects are too sick and frightened to hit the streets for more mass protests. A few hardy souls have demonstrated against the “Mullahs’ virus” and the “guilt of the Iranian regime” despite the panic.

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