While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dismissed the deadly COVID-19 outbreak as a biological attack, his regime continued flights to China, putting his people and the broader Middle East at greater risk of the rapidly spreading disease, news reports say.
“[T]he best biological defense would’ve been to tell the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to #Iran from China,” U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said in a March 13 tweet, responding to Khamenei’s claim of an attack. “Instead, he kept Mahan Air flights coming and going to the epicenter in China.”
Mahan Air, a U.S.-sanctioned airline that the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps uses to export terrorism, flew at least 55 round-trip flights to cities in China between February 4 and February 23, according to Radio Farda. The flights violated the Iranian government’s stated ban on flights to China announced January 31.
And The Wall Street Journal reports that flights may have continued, at least in part, to support the regime’s strategic partnership with China, including nuclear power and railway projects near Qom, which has seen the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran.
“China has been the trading partner of last resort, but, in this case, it has turned into a very toxic bomb,” Sanam Vakil, of the London, think tank Chatham House, told the Journal. Iranian health officials have said Chinese workers in Qom are a likely source of the virus in the country, according to the newspaper.
Mahan Air’s continued flights to China are the latest evidence of the regime’s mishandling the crisis. In February, an Iranian lawmaker said Iran’s regime had not yet taken any action to confront COVID-19. That criticism followed the lawmaker’s assertion that the virus had already killed 50 people in Qom, despite the regime’s claims of a lower nationwide death toll.
According to the Iranian government, as of March 17, over 16,000 Iranians have been infected and 988 have died. But Iran has been threatening and imprisoning Iranians who reveal real statistics to the media.
Meanwhile, Khamenei continues to misrepresent and trivialize the public health disaster that is ravaging his country. As recently as March 12, Khamenei claimed in a tweet that there was “some evidence” of a biological attack and said the country is mounting a “biological defense.”