On Sunday, March 22, the leader of Iran accused the United States of producing and using coronavirus as a biological weapon.
Curiously, Ali Khamenei went on to stress that he did not know how well-founded the charge was. But he also claimed such behavior could be expected from the United States, adding: "You may prescribe a drug, or bring medication into the country, in order to sustain and prevent the virus from ending.
Or if someone is sent as a doctor, they be coming here to look closely at the practical effects of the toxins they have produced – because they are said to have created a part of the virus especially for Iranians, using Iranian genetic knowledge, gained from various means. They might come to see how it works, complete their own information, and increase their hostilities."
The remarks came as part of a justification of Iran’s rejection of US aid in the fight against the coronavirus. Still addressing the US, Khamenei added: "You have terrifying deficiencies yourself, both in terms of preventive measures, disease prevention, medication and the like. If you have plenty of something, spend it on yourself."
This is not the first time Ali Khamenei and other Iranian political figures have claimed that the coronavirus is "a biological weapon". In this article IranWire seeks to answer two pressing questions: How far does this claim hold? Does there exist any evidence confirm that coronavirus is a biological weapon?
Iran’s Biological Defense Headquarters: Silence and Inactivity Against Coronavirus.
The Iranian Passive Defense Organization established a “bio-defense headquarters” in 2013, entrusted with dealing with alleged bio-threats and managing related crises in Iran. This body was intended to counter any threat of biological attack and in doing so, keep the public safe.
In a radio interview 13 days after the arrival of coronavirus was officially announced in Iran, Passive Defense Commander Sardar Jalali told listeners: "In 2018 we conducted a training exercise at Imam Khomeini International Airport which exactly simulated the current situation. During this drill the tasks of the relevant departments were defined, simulated and trained."
During the interview, Jalali noted that laboratory testing would be required to prove the claim that “coronavirus was made to affect the Chinese and Iranian economies". But he went on: "The consequences of the virus in terms of casualties and extent, and the media storm that is raging to heighten the fears and anxieties among the public, reinforce the notion that a bio-economic attack on China and Iran has taken place."
In effect, Jalali was endorsing the same theory: that coronavirus constituted a biological attack on China and Iran, a claim that since appears to have influenced the Supreme Leader. But what Jalali failed to explain was why, if this was a biological attack, the bio-defense headquarters formed specifically for such events had not done its job. Why not at the very least least block the border of Imam Airport in a timely manner, and why permit a suspected biological attack on Iran to take place and seemingly achieve its aims, without any resistance?
Meanwhile, the coronavirus-as-biological-attack theory is not the sole preserve of the Iranian leader’s military advisers. In Russia, it appears to hold even greater sway.
In a report entitled "Russian media spreading Covid-19 disinformation", The Guardian writes: "Pro-Kremlin media in Russia over the past two months (16 January to 16 March 2020) have in more than 80 articles published false information that the coronavirus is a biological weapon manufactured and spread by China, the United States, or Britain."
Do Scientific Communities Believe Coronavirus is a Biological Weapon?
Enquiries by Iranwire indicate that no valid scientific evidence has confirmed the claims that either coronavirus is a biological weapon, or that coronavirus is a product of the deliberate genetic modification of an existing virus by human beings. On the contrary, scientists and scientific institutions believe coronavirus is a product of the natural evolution of SARS.
In an article dated March 2, the scientific journal Nature – one of the most prestigious publications in the field of genetics – emphasized that coronavirus, which is associated with acute respiratory syndrome, is a naturally-evolving strain from SARS family.
Two weeks later, another Nature study further examined its origin and reiterated that according to research to date, the genetics of the coronavirus do not appear to have been tampered with.
The authors of this paper considered the virus to have been transmitted from an animal source, with its evolutionary growth within an animal the most likely scenario. Theories that Covid-19 was cultivated in a “laboratory-based scenario”, they believed, were “not plausible”.
Elsewhere in an article on March 3, the life science industry publication BioSpace wrote: "International researchers conclude that coronavirus is not man-made." The magazine added: "The results of research prove that the coronavirus is a product of natural evolution and ends any speculation about the deliberate genetic engineering of coronavirus."
The newspaper USA Today has also evaluated the claims that the coronavirus was produced in a Chinese laboratory. It concluded: "Based on the virus genome and its characteristics, there is no evidence to support the engineering of the virus." Based on its own research, the newspaper said says such claims are "inaccurate".
Most damningly of all, the Iranian Ministry of Health, Iran's foremost scientific body in the field of medicine, has also denied that coronavirus is a biological weapon. In an interview on March 13, former deputy secretary of health Reza Malekzadeh, who also served in the ministry, said: "Our estimates do not support this. We have had other epidemics, both in the past 20 to 30 years and in the distant past. If this was a biological war, why would America itself be the most affected by the virus?"
What Discredits the Iranian Leader's Claim?
A geneticist in the US State of California with more than 20 years of experience in the field acknowledged that there was “no doubt” that many countries across the globe, including the US, are active in the production and development of biological weapons and related defenses. “Before the Iranian leader,” he told IranWire, “some have also claimed coronavirus to be a biological weapon.
“But what makes the Iranian leader's statements ridiculous is that he says: 'You may prescribe a drug, or enter the country to make the virus stay and prevent it from ending'.
This has no scientific and rational basis and is completely baseless. So far, the nature of the virus's prevalence or our ability to inhibit it has not been identified and no studies in areas of pharmacology or biology have been carried out."
Asked whether in his view the virus was designed to harm the Chinese and Iranian economies, or whether the genetic similarity between Iranians and Italians might have caused the virus to spread in the two countries, he said: "Without relying on scientific evidence you can practically say whatever you like. But the claims lack a scientific and professional basis.
“Numerous genetic similarities and differences can be found among all living creatures, including humans; again, no virus that can target a specific genetic group of humans and exclude the rest has been created or identified. In addition, the genetic patterns of the Chinese, Iranians, and western Europeans are quite distinct. Making a virus that targets only the two Iranian and Chinese races seems impossible.”
According to this scientist, the human role in the emergence of such viruses (SARS, Mars or COVID-19) is more likely to have been our manipulation of the Earth's ecosystem, narrowing the field of animal species that were previously less correlated.
The most likely hypothesis for the cause of viruses such as SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19 would then be global warming, shrinking the field of animals affected and thus increasing the likelihood of transmission of viruses from one species to another, including humans.