0321 GMT October 22, 2020
Anybody seeking to pose a threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests should know that our response will leave them regretful, said the deputy chief of Iran’s Army for coordination, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily.
He made the remarks in reaction to the threats by the US regime against Iranian military boats patrolling the country’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.
In April, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he had directed forces to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian gunboats that “harass” American ships, following a near confrontation between US warships and Iranian patrolling boats in the Persian Gulf.
Rear Admiral Sayyari added that thanks to its enormous military power, Iran’s Army is capable of providing assistance to the country’s people in the fight against coronavirus, in addition to countering any foreign threats.
He said none of the army conscripts died of coronavirus, noting that only four of noncommissioned officers lost their lives to COVID-19, of whom two had underlying diseases.
Full text of the interview follows:
IRAN DAILY: Would you please tell us how and why the Iranian Army joined national efforts to fight coronavirus?
REAR ADMIRAL HABIBOLLAH SAYYARI: The problems caused in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak in the country required rapid response and measures by related domestic organizations. In light of its intrinsic responsibilities, normally, the Iranian Army constantly monitors all threats. The threats are not necessarily always military ones. A disease is also deemed a threat capable of impacting a large number of the country’s issues and structures, as has been the case with the coronavirus spread. Thus, from the very beginning, we have been cognizant of the COVID-19 disease ever since it began spreading in China, and had predicted all the necessary measures to manage it prior to its outbreak in Iran.
We had monitored the spread of the disease in such a way that we were completely prepared to fight the virus when the Iranian Health Ministry announced its outbreak in the country.
Moreover, the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, in a letter, immediately called for the establishment of headquarters in the subsidiary organizations of the country’s Armed Forces to fight the virus. On this basis, a headquarters was set up in the Iranian Army titled Biological Defense. Given the importance of the issue, I personally took charge of the headquarters at the directive of Chief Commander of Iran's Army Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi. Subsequently, I immediately held a meeting with Health Minister Saeid Namaki and announced that the Iranian Army is ready to cooperate with the country’s medical staff in the battle against coronavirus in view of its capabilities, capacities and similar experiences gained during the Iraqi-imposed war (1980-88).
The Iranian Army was faced with chemical attacks [by Saddam Hussein's regime] during the war, with the distinction that the chemical war took place in one part of the country; whereas, the coronavirus has spread across the whole country and the entire world.
We predicted that the contagion of coronavirus could place additional burden on the country’s health and medical sector, and thus, announced that the Army is ready to cooperate with the Health Ministry through increasing the number of workforce, expanding the country’s medical capacities and contributing to the implementation of hygiene measures.
The Army put 38 hospitals and over 800 clinics across the country at the disposal of the Health Ministry. In addition, Iran’s Army has great capacities in the fields of carrying out large-scale disinfection operations, setting up screening stations in different parts of the country and manufacturing medical clothing and disinfectants. We began our cooperation on this basis. In addition, we began providing different services as per the request by the National Taskforce for Managing and Fighting Coronavirus and the directive by the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces.
This continued until Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a decree urging the Armed Forces to organize their services in preventing the coronavirus spread and treating the infected patients. On this basis, the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces set up a health and treatment headquarters named after Imam Reza (PBUH), the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, and issued another directive mandating different sections of the Armed Forces, including the Iranian Army, to expand their activities to contain the spread of coronavirus and prepare the ground for implementing Iran Leader’s decree and cause the measures to have tangible impacts.
Following Ayatollah Khamenei’s decree, the Iranian Army’s hospitals across the country became more coordinated with each other and a large number of them – including Hajar Hospital (Tehran), Besat Nahaja General Hospital (Tehran), Golestan Hospital (Tehran), Vali-Asr Hospital (the northern city of Rasht), a hospital in the western province of Lorestan and Imam Reza (PBUH) Hospital – mobilized all their resources to help the Health Ministry. In addition, the Iranian Army’s clinics used their resources for the screening and monitoring of people and providing treatment services to the patients.
Close to 400 iterant teams were formed to help the Health Ministry control the spread of the virus and screen people across the country. In addition, field hospitals were set up in different cities, such as Qom (central Iran) and Rasht, based on a decision and request by the National Taskforce for Managing and Fighting Coronavirus.
Would you please expound on the experiences you said the Iranian Army had gained during the eight-year Iraqi-imposed war which have helped it in the battle against the coronavirus spread?
The Iranian Army has a modern warfare defense unit – also known as the Chemical, Microbial and Nuclear Unit – which has considerable experience in the field of chemical warfare gained during the Iraqi-imposed war. Following the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, this unit entered the scene of the battle against the fast-spreading virus. Thanks to its staff’s creativity and innovativeness, the specialized unit made some changes to its anti-chemical and anti-microbial equipment and used them to fight the virus. New devices and equipment were also made to this end which can be used for the large-scale disinfection of vast areas.
This way, we managed to disinfect places and streets in 24 provinces. In some provinces, such as Gilan (northern Iran) and Qom, all cities were disinfected.
Another device was also built capable of disinfecting different places within two minutes using gas. The device has been successfully tested and piloted and handed over to the Iranian National Standards Organization for the final approval.
We have also used the Army’s experiences in treating the patients. For instance, the coronavirus patients have been given hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Golestan Hospital, the country’s only medical center equipped with systems to control and treat decompression sickness, which has produced favorable results.
In addition, the Iranian Army was one of the very first domestic organizations to produce coronavirus test kits and obtain the approval of Pasteur Institute of Iran. Also, AJA University of Medical Sciences has been among the very first centers in the country to identify the infected through tests.
Would you please list the Iranian Army’s measures to increase the number of beds in the country’s hospitals and convalescent homes?
The Army built a number of convalescent homes across the country with a total number of 12,000 beds. It set up a temporary hospital and a 2,000-bed convalescent home in Tehran International Permanent Fairground in 48 hours, which was a remarkable record and a great job. The high quality of the center was confirmed by the Health Ministry officials, the heads of Tehran-based hospitals and even a Chinese medical delegation visiting Iran.
Setting up the center in such a short period of time was a herculean task as the halls that were handed over to us had not been used for years and thus were shabby and unclean. We, in a matter of two days, painted and disinfected the halls, fixed the restrooms, added a number of portable toilets and bathrooms and built rooms for nurses and physicians as well as labs. We also set up a field hospital next to the convalescent home for providing special hospital services.
Purchasing the equipment for these centers was not easy as when they were being established, Iranians were on the Noruz holidays (March 20-April 1) – celebrated annually to mark the arrival of the New Year in Iran. In addition, we provided the field hospital and the big convalescent home with a large number of ambulances and staffed them with physicians and nurses, who worked there in shifts. Increasing the capacity of the country’s convalescent homes and hospitals by 12,000 beds was an important achievement as it helped boost the medical staff’s morale and eased their concerns. This was because they knew they were being supported strongly.
Would you please tell us about the spread of the virus in the country’s barracks and military centers given that they are normally home to a large number of people?
The Iranian Army’s main mission is to preserve the territorial integrity and independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a timeless mission as the Army is always required to be ready to perform and fulfill it under any circumstances. Using part of our capacities to help curb the coronavirus spread in the country must not lead to a reduction in our combat capabilities as maintaining the latter is the Army’s top priority. If an army seeking to stand against enemies fails to protect its own health, it will face problems in fulfilling its main mission. Thus, we are required to maintain our health in the first place.
Furthermore, if a disease could negatively impact the Iranian Armey’s capabilities, enemies were no longer required to engage in an armed conflict with us as they would sabotage our missions by waging a biological warfare.
Regarding the coronavirus spread, the conditions in our barracks and military centers are very favorable at present thanks to the implemented protective measures. The number of the infected in the Army is far lower than that in the society.
From the very first day of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, Iran’s Army has begun implementing a large number of the protective measures, such as social distancing, that are currently being employed [in different cities]. We issued an instruction to disinfect different sections of the barracks several times a day and tighten screening and supervision [of personnel and conscripts] in these places. The measures proved effective in such a way that none of the army conscripts has died of coronavirus. In addition, suspicious cases have been immediately controlled and the infected have been mostly cured. There are a few patients who are still undergoing treatment.
With regard to the Iranian Army’s noncommissioned officers, the situation is good despite the facts that they are on the field fighting coronavirus and some of them are old. Army personnel cannot leave their posts and stay at home. In addition, over the past few months, our forces have been actively providing services to people, which increases their exposure and vulnerability to the virus. Despite this, only four of the noncommissioned officers lost their lives to COVID-19, of whom two had underlying diseases.
How do you assess the present situation of the Iranian Army?
Iran’s Army enjoys a very good status in the region and world in terms of its defensive capability as it has implemented the recommendation by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, stating that the country should not beg foreigners for maintaining its defensive capability. At present, the Iranian Army provides training to its forces and staff according to its own standards. The situation was different prior to the victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Human forces are the main elements of a battle. When we train our own forces, we can count on them. Today, we manufacture our own military equipment. Since we have been under sanctions ever since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, we have always counted on our own capabilities in this field and modernized our equipment. We have even made new equipment. At present, our military tactics are entirely domestic. In addition, our maneuvers are performed based on the domestic military science. A country that can stand on its own two feet like this has no weakness to be exploited by enemies.
Such a country enjoys superiority over those states that import their weapons and fail to train their military forces themselves. Such countries borrow their defensive capability from others. However, we count on and boast of our military might. This is the basis on which we can say we are a [main] regional power.
Based on the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 2231 – a 2015 resolution endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program – the UN arms embargo on the country is scheduled to be lifted in October 2020. This comes as the US has already launched desperate bids to prevent the removal of the ban. To what extent do you believe the lifting of the arms embargo will help Iran boost its military capability?
Having international interactions can lead to a boost in the country’s military capabilities. However, we have not pinned our hopes on the removal of the sanctions and will not beg anyone for their lifting. Iran’s combat and defensive capabilities will not be harmed even if the embargoes are not lifted. In the past few months, the US and its allies have formed a maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf on the pretext of ensuring the security of trading vessels, which has heightened tensions in the region.
What’s your assessment?
We have always announced that only regional countries can ensure the shipping security in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. However, a number of countries claim that they want to beef up security in the Persian Gulf and the region, while, in reality, they solely seek to promote their own illegitimate interests. A brief look at the history of their presence in the regional countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria shows that they have been the main source of insecurity in these states. As soon as they leave the region, security will be restored. We don’t need them to guarantee our security. They have defined a number of illegitimate interests for themselves to justify their presence in the region.
The Islamic Republic of Iran [like the past] is capable of ensuring shipping security in the Persian Gulf. Right now, Iranian forces are providing shipping lines with security in the Gulf of Aden by protecting their vessels against pirates. Our forces have ensured security for our own vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea as well as the eastern, western and northern parts of the Indian Ocean. They have, so far, escorted and protected several thousands of vessels. If needed, we will do this in any other parts of the world, as we have helped other countries protect their ships against pirates.
Thus, the so-called US-led coalition is not needed. Nevertheless, a number of the regional countries that depend on other states for ensuring their security may welcome the presence of US and its allies in regional waters. The US views these countries as milking cows and uses them to safeguard its own interests.
Trump recently threatened to target Iranian military boats that had been on mission patrolling the country’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. What’s your response as a senior commander of Iran’s Army?
We have been receiving such threats from the US since the victory of the Islamic Revolution. However, our military might is strong enough to enable us to respond proportionately and properly to any threats. I am not addressing solely Trump and Americans of course, anybody seeking to pose a threat to the Islamic Republic’s interests should know that Iran’s response will leave them regretful.