Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali KhameneiReuters

On Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the Iranian nation about the coronavirus crisis which has reportedly devastated the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei’s speech should have been dealing with Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that commemorates the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad. This is normally a major celebration, but Iranians have little to celebrate these days.

The official death toll of the Corona- or COVID-19 virus in Iran stands at 1.500 but the Iranian opposition in exile claims a staggering 8.800 Iranians have died thus far as a result of the disease.

In Tehran, for example, 1.250 Iranians have died after contracting the COVID-19 virus with corpses piling up in mortuaries where they also infected workers.

If the information of the National Council of Resistance of Iran is true, the death toll in the Islamic Republic is by far the highest in the world and many regime officials are among the victims.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the regime is changing its behavior in handling the crisis nor in its foreign policies.

Khamenei, for example, used his address to the Iranian nation to launch a fresh blistering attack on the United States and the Trump Administration, repeating his earlier conspiracy theory that the Corona outbreak in Iran was to blame on a biologic weapon launched by the US army.

“Prophets had many enemies. We shouldn't be surprised at having enemies. The most vicious enemy is the US government they are lying, brazen, avaricious charlatans, and cruel, merciless terrorists," the Iranian leader said.

Khamenei also ridiculed the American offer to send medical equipment and medicines to Iran and suggested that those medicines could be meant to perpetuate the Corona crisis or even to help the COVID-19 virus spreading to other parts of the Islamic Republic.

“Everyone should observe the guidelines of the National Committee for Combating Corona, God willing,” Khamenei warned Iranians before touting the ban on religious gatherings, a step that only recently was imposed by the regime.

The regime in Tehran is also trying to help businesses that could go bankrupt, a measure that would help government companies first, since the Iranian government is the largest economic player in Iran.

Ordinary Iranians will have to suffice with a one-time cash hand-out within the coming four months and interest-free loans that must be repaid within 30 months.

The full impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Iranian economy will be visible only in another three months, experts say, but the fact that Khamenei had to swallow his pride and ask the International Monetary Fund for a $5 billion loan for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic is telling.

There were earlier reports that Iran was scaling back its financial and military support for its many proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, but the belligerent activities of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps continue unabated.

Iran is behind a series of rocket attacks on US bases and civil American installations in Iraq and put US President Donald J. Trump in a difficult situation last week when the widening of US military action came up during a discussion in the White House.

The rocket attacks on US interests and coalition bases in Iraq which killed two American soldiers and one British soldier followed the assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at the beginning of January this year and they still continue.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Administration officials wanted to escalate military action against Iran, while Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed such a move, citing lack of evidence Iran was behind the rocket attacks which were reportedly carried out by Khataib Hezbollah.

This Shiite Iraqi force, however, receives its orders from Eshmail Ghaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, but Trump took Esper’s and Milley’s side and ordered limited strikes against five weapon depots belonging to the Hashd al-Sha’abi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias in Iraq.

Iran has repeatedly stated that it wants all US forces to leave Iraq and when the Trump Administration didn’t give in, ordered its Iraqi proxies to launch a series of attacks on US interests in the war-torn country.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was very blunt about Iran’s involvement in the attacks on American interests in Iraq.

“Americans assassinated our great general, and we did not and will not leave this without a response,” Rouhani told reporters referring to the assassination of Soleimani.

So, despite the huge Corona crisis, Iran is advancing its ‘Israel project’ and continues to build up forces in Syria as well.

Lebanese Hezbollah is currently recruiting Shiite Syrians who defected from the Syrian army and has already deployed 5.350 fighters in the Syrian Golan Heights near the Israeli border, while another Iranian proxy in Syria has recruited 3.600 Shiite fighters in northeast Syria where Iran has built a huge base near the border town al-Bukamal.

This Iranian base, named after Imam Ali, the founder of Shia Islam, has now been completely destroyed after mysterious airstrikes that occurred on March 11 and killed 26 Shiite fighters.

The Imam Ali base has been targeted several times by the US military but also by the Israeli air force that acted against the base to prevent Iran from completing its land bridge, planned to go from Tehran all the way to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Satellite images released by the Israeli company ImageSat International showed that a large part of the Imam Ali base had been destroyed, but not an underground tunnel where Iran is believed to hide long-range ballistic missiles that will be used in a future war with Israel.

The US military in Iraq, meanwhile, is repositioning its forces from smaller bases - officially to adjust the strategy in the war against a re-emerging Islamic State group - while Washington also intends to deploy the Patriot anti-missile system in Iraq.