April 30, 2020 — Berlin, Germany
This piece originally appeared in Juedische Allgemeine.
Largely unseen by western publics, a humanitarian catastrophe is playing out in Iran. Almost no country has been hit harder by the coronavirus than the Islamic Republic. Moreover, the regime’s official statistics can hardly be reconciled with reports coming from opposition figures. Already under pressure from protests that were crushed in winter, it is widely believed that the regime is hiding the true extent of the pandemic.
The regime cannot afford its incompetence, corruption, and systematic disregard for the population’s needs to spark renewed protests. In light of the situation, Germany’s and Europe’s calls for the U.S. administration to relax or suspend sanctions have grown louder.
Seeing the suffering of the Iranian people, such calls seem reasonable at first but, upon closer inspection, are the wrong approach. The response suggests that the regime lacks finances. This is not the case. It has sufficient resources at its disposal to cope with the crisis. It just needs to prioritize protective clothing, masks, ventilators and other equipment to help the sick and protect the healthy over sinking resources into missile programs and terrorist organizations in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.
Yet, the antisemitic fanatics in Tehran show once again that their imperial politics to control the region and threatening Israel is more important than the well-being of its own people.
This does not mean that the West should not do all it can to alleviate the country’s suffering. It must, however, ensure that aid reaches the public and is not siphoned off by notoriously corrupt power structures. This is all the more important as it would send a signal to the Iranians that the West opposes their democratically illegitimate leadership, not the people.
Remko Leemhuis is Acting Director of AJC Berlin.