The coronavirus was declared a global pandemic shortly over one month ago by the World Health Organization. Since that point, its growth has continued to skyrocket and devastate the world, especially impacting the most vulnerable populations. At the time of my writing, over 2.4 million people were infected worldwide, and over 160 thousand deaths had been reported. The United States surpassed China and Italy for the most cases, and the growth shows little signs of slowing. Since the outbreak reached the U.S., however, news coverage of the areas that have been most vulnerable, especially in the Middle East, decreased significantly.
In this piece, we will be looking at the impact of U.S. foreign policy and sanctioning on the impact of coronavirus. We will focus on Iran and Palestine.
We will start our analysis with Iran. Like Italy, Iran had one of the highest rates of infection in the early stages of the virus, after it spread outside of Asia. Yet, it is likely that the spread would not have been as severe without U.S. imposed sanctions. It is important to first look at the sanctions that existed before the outbreak, and then we will look at the sanctions that were implemented after Covid-19 began to spread. Since the U.S. government pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2017, well before the virus, sanctions have been steadily increasing. U.S. sanctions mainly targeted the private sector in Iran, from technology development to agriculture, under the guise of directing pressure at political leaders to halt weapons manufacturing programs.
While, on paper, the sanctions are supposed to “exempt” medicine, medical supplies, and food, this is not true in practice. Many institutions, including European banks, which help to fund those aspects of Iran’s society, pulled their loans and grants due to pressure from the U.S., which threatened those institutions with direct economic and financial punishment. The effect of these sanctions resulted in extremely high food prices, and crippling shortages of life-saving medicine and medical equipment. Of course, such shortages harm the most vulnerable members of the population. The State department claims that these sanctions are only intended to put direct pressure on political leaders in the country, despite the fact that crippling a nation’s economy normally only hurts those at the bottom. U.S. sanctions rarely target individuals with actual power, instead opting to target the marginalized populations.
As the coronavirus began to spread, the already stressed Iranian health care system began to shudder under mounting pressure. Shortages of ventilators started almost immediately, and doctors ran out of masks shortly after. This, in turn, made it much harder to prevent healthcare personnel from contracting the virus and needing treatment themselves: a vicious cycle. Many companies who rely on some amount of U.S. support, either due to their location or financial backing, have refused to send medical supplies to Iran because they fear backlash from the United States’ government. Google pulled Iran’s own coronavirus diagnostic app from the Iranian app store after mounting pressure from U.S. officials. Despite pressure to reduce or remove sanctions, even temporarily, to allow Iran to contain the pandemic, the State Department denied that the sanctions were harming the spread of the disease and imposed additional sanctions on five companies with Iranian ties.
There is no doubt that Iran would have been more capable of containing the virus had its economy not been crippled by sanctions. I know from my family there that the price of food was severely high even before the crisis began. I cannot imagine how bad it must be now.
We now move to Palestine, specifically the Gaza Strip. This part of the world was the most vulnerable to the coronavirus spread, due to the U.S. backed Israeli blockade. It is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, spanning merely 20 miles long and 5 miles wide, yet containing 2 million inhabitants. The Israeli government claims that Gaza is not “under their control” anymore, but the reality is that all access to and from Gaza is monitored and enforced by the Israeli military. Palestinians living in Gaza can only use a few small nautical miles of water, boats cannot dock in Gaza from international aid efforts, land access is controlled by Israeli monitored checkpoints, and even the airspace is Israeli-controlled. Surveillance balloons hang in the sky above Gaza 24/7. That is not to mention the air raids and bombings that occur regularly. Gaza was predicted to be uninhabitable by this year, 2020, though I don’t believe that the predictions were expecting a pandemic. Healthcare proves especially difficult when electricity is rarely on for more than half a day in many parts of Gaza. The World Health Organization reports that Gaza had only 87 ventilators. Eighty-seven for a population of 2 million. There are only 40 intensive care beds, which, at best, can be stretched to 100 in dire circumstances. Even if Gaza is able to control the spread of the virus, its already collapsed economy will plummet even further, resulting in starvation and sickness. Agriculture and farming efforts have already suffered. Under the conditions imposed by the brutal Israeli occupation, Gaza is arguably the most threatened place in the face of Covid-19. The U.S. has continued to provide aid to the Israeli military and has even sent additional masks to them, yet has cut funding for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories. The U.S. is not only complicit in this atrocity, it is an active agent.
Neither of the nations that we have analyzed here are currently able to adequately fight against a global pandemic. They also all share the same chain, the same poison: U.S. sanctions and United States imperialism. Without such brutal restrictions, these very same nations would have a fighting chance. Now, they fight a war without weapons.