U.S. Marines and Emirati forces held a major military exercise Monday that saw forces seize a sprawling model Mideast city, a drill conducted amid tensions with Iran and despite the new coronavirus pandemic. Troops raced over the dunes of the Al-Hamra Military Base to take the model city, complete with multistory buildings, an airport control tower, an oil refinery and a central mosque. Controlled explosions rang out as Emirati troops rappelled from hovering helicopters and Marines searched narrow streets on the Persian Gulf for mock-enemy forces.
The European Union will send 20 million euros in humanitarian aid to Iran, which is subject to U.S. sanctions, to help alleviate the coronavirus, and will also support Tehran's request for IMF financial help, the EU's top diplomat said. "We've not been able to provide a lot of humanitarian help but there is some 20 million euros in the pipeline ... that we expect to be delivered over the next weeks," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a video news conference on Monday.
Under apparent pressure from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and ultraconservative allies of the country's Supreme Leader, Tehran has rejected the offer of medical help by a team sent by the renowned international non-governmental group, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders. Earlier on March 22, MSF had sent a consignment of medical aid to Iran, including one field inflatable hospital, medicines, respiratory masks, and protective clothing.
UANI IN THE NEWS
...In order to truly understand the threats that Iran and Hezbollah pose to Israel and the wider Middle East, we must make the effort to seek out the human stories like those we encountered on our Israel trip. For all of us who work for the non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), there is some personal aspect of the threats posed by this dangerous regime that motivates our work. The experiences that the members of our group had on the trip made it clear that those who truly care about peace and human rights must make the effort to turn the complexity of Middle East politics into a deeper more personal understanding of reality.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
From Caracas to Tehran, officials are calling on the Trump administration to ease crippling economic sanctions they contend are contributing to the growing death toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The idea has gained support from prominent leftists in the U.S., including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who say throwing a financial lifeline to some of the United States' fiercest critics is worth it if lives can be saved. "It's absolutely unconscionable to keep sanctions on at this moment," Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, said in an interview.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that the U.S. should lift sanctions on Tehran if it wants to help with the nation's coronavirus outbreak. "American leaders are lying ... If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions .... Then we can deal with the coronavirus outbreak," Rouhani said in a televised speech, Reuters reported. Rouhani reiterated comments by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejecting the U.S.'s offer of humanitarian aid.
Iranian regime officials stole more than $1 billion in humanitarian funds meant to be used to help the country's people fight the spread of coronavirus, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. European countries intended for more than $1 billion cash for medical supplies to go to the Iranian people, who have been ravaged by the virus. But American officials say regime leaders instead pocketed the money and are now using it to protect themselves from the virus as it spreads throughout the population. This includes hoarding medical supplies that were meant to aid Iranian citizens.
A lot of missiles can overwhelm the defenses of any base or ship. This is why a war with Iran is no joke. Iran is continuing to develop increasingly long-range ballistic missiles -- and is firing some shorter-range missiles in combat -- despite demands from the U.S. government that the Islamic republic totally give up any weapons that could, in theory, carry a nuclear warhead. On Sept. 8 and Oct. 1, 2018, Iran launched Zulfiqar, Quim-1 and Fateh-110 rockets at enemies in Iraqi Kurdistan. The strikes together represent the most intensive Iranian missile attacks in nearly 20 years.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rebuffed the Iranian regime's suggestion that the coronavirus was bioengineered by the United States to target Iran and other geopolitical foes. The top U.S. diplomat argued that Iran was more interested in ideology than fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. "Supreme Leader Khamenei's fabrications regarding the Wuhan virus are dangerous, and they put Iranians and people around the world at greater risk," Pompeo said on Monday. "Facts matter."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday accused Iran's Ali Khamenei of lying about the coronavirus pandemic as the supreme leader rejected US assistance for his hard-hit country. In a televised address Sunday, Khamenei described the United States as "charlatans" and charged that Washington could bring in a drug to keep the virus alive. Pompeo in a statement also used loaded language, accusing "Iran's chief terror airline" Mahan Air of bringing in what he called the "Wuhan virus" through its continued flights to China.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
With the COVID-19 epidemic showing no signs of slowing down in Iran, the army on Monday announced a series of steps to show it is playing a notable role in confronting the coronavirus. Iranian Army's biological Defense Headquarters says it is going to set up a makeshift hospice in Tehran within 48 hours for 2,000 Coronavirus patients to spend their recuperation period after they are discharged from hospitals. This probably means the establishment has 2,000 beds for the patients to rest, but there is no medical equipment available.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 122 in the past 24 hours to 1,934, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Tuesday. The total number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by 1,762 in the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday about half of all government employees were staying at home as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, state TV reported. Iran is one of the hardest hit countries outside China, with more than 23,000 confirmed infections and more than 1,800 dead, according to the latest figures issued on Monday. Another measure to contain the outbreak, the temporary release of prisoners, will be extended until the end of the current Iranian month of Farvardin, about April 18, he said.
IRAQ & IRAN
The Iranian government should pay $202 million to the family of an Iraqi contractor working with the U.S. who was tortured and murdered in 2006 by a Tehran-backed group, a federal magistrate in New York recommended. The victim's widow and sons, now living in Idaho, are entitled to compensation because of the pain and suffering they endured after the contractor was tortured for five days and killed in Baghdad, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey said in a report on Monday in Manhattan.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The novel coronavirus is advancing across the Middle East, straining frail public health services and exacerbating preexisting political and sectarian tensions, both within states and between regional rivals. Most of the region's earliest cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, were traced to the holy city of Qom in Iran, whose renowned Shiite seminaries and Sayyida Fatimah al-Masumah shrine draw aspiring clerics and devout pilgrims from across the Shiite world.