A prominent Iranian cleric has said it is permissible to use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”
The Iranian regime views Israel as a mortal enemy. But Iran has also faced one of the most severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus outside its origin and epicenter in China.
“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, told the Iranian daily Hamdeli on Wednesday.
“Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute,” he added, “then this is not an obstacle.”
Shirazi, one of the highest authorities in Shiite Islam and a former member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts that appoints the supreme leader, is considered among the regime’s more hard-line ideologues.
He has called the Holocaust a “superstition,” opposed owning pets and objected to efforts to allow women to attend soccer matches.
The response may reflect a regime in crisis.
At least 429 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak, according to Iranian officials, and more than 10,000 people were confirmed as infected as of Thursday. International estimates suggested the death toll could be far higher.
The outbreak has put additional strain on a regime already battered by US sanctions and mass riots over the past year over fuel price hikes and other economic pressures.
On Wednesday, media reports said Israel’s Institute for Biological Research, which operates under the aegis of the Defense Ministry, was closing in on a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Later in the day, the Defense Ministry denied any “breakthrough” had been achieved and said the institute’s efforts “will take time” to bear fruit.
Reporting on the possibility that Israel would be the first to produce a vaccine, the Iranian daily Hamdeli turned to Shirazi to ask if Iranians would be permitted to buy and use the Israeli-developed vaccine.