Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Admits 'Error' In Shooting Down Airliner After Denials, Videos, Foreign Pressure

Relatives of the flight crew members of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed in Iran, mourn at a memorial at the Boryspil International airport outside Kyiv, January 8, 2020
Relatives of the flight crew members of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed in Iran, mourn at a memorial at the Boryspil International airport outside Kyiv, January 8, 2020

After four days of denials, misleading disinformation and misguided analyses about a plane crash that claimed 176 lives in Tehran, Iran finally assumed responsibility for the tragedy under foreign pressure and said the Ukrainian airliner was downed by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles.

The revelation was made Saturday morning January 11 while until a few hours before the announcement some officials were strictly denying Iranian military's involvement and said that investigation about the cause of crash could take months.

Until Saturday morning, many Iranians published damning videos on social media, but Iranian officials and employees of the state-controlled media ruled out the authenticity of those images.

Keeping Khamenei in the dark

On the military side, there is clearly something wrong in the chain of command.

The IRGC commanders apparently kept state officials including Supreme Leader and commander in chief of the armed forces Ali Khamenei. Mir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of IRGC’s Aerospace Force accepted responsibility hours after the armed forces admitted shooting down the airliner. From his statement it appears the decision to fire missiles was not cleared through the chain of command.

A reporter close to Iranian security forces says a statement by the Chief of the Joint Staff claimss "the plane was shot down because it came close to a sensitive military center."

But why there should be sensitive military centers near an international airport frequented by tens of international aircraft on a daily basis?

On the other hand, why top commanders did not suspend flights from Iranian airports while a missile attack against U.S. bases in Iraq was taking place and the military was in a state of alert? Mismanagement and lack of concern for the public's safety are two reasons many Iranians highlight on social media.

IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh explained on Saturday on the state TV that the air defense system had asked to clear the air space, but the request was not accepted by higher leadership. He did not say however, who exactly refused the request.

Meanwhile, he said that he was made aware of the downing of the aircraft on the day it happened but did not explain why he remained silent about it.

Airlines avoid Tehran

Several international airlines, mainly Europeans chose to stop flights to and from Iran "until further notice".

At least a German airline and an Austrian airline called back flights to Tehran mid-air fearing passengers' safety.

The event has badly damaged the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization's reputation. The organization's chief insisted in several interviews on state TV that hitting an aircraft with a missile near the Tehran airport was "impossible."

How can this lack of coordination between the IRGC and the Civil Aviation Organizations be justified? Did the IRGC's obsession with secrecy stop it from warning the civil aviation organization?

Government's lack of concern

The apparent carelessness on the part of the government for the security and safety of civilians prompted some people to question the Rouhani administration's adherence to the principles of good governance.

Radio Farda Analyst Morad Veisi wrote that Khamenei, Rouhani and the IRGC should be seen as accountable for the attack on the airliner. Several others have asked what else should happen before Khamenei acknowledges his personal responsibility?

A Twitter user wished the Canadian president, who did his best to alert the world about the catastrophe in Iran, would accept to be the guardian of Iranian citizens.

Another Iranian tweeted: "The event showed that the Iranian government had no plan to be honest with Iranian citizens. They could have bravely spoken to the people and told the truth on the same day that the attack happened."

President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement expressing regret on behalf of the Islamic republic, but many Iranians on social media say this is not an apology.He also tweeted in English, without directly apologizing.

The only Iranian official who did apologize was Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But his apology, which was too little too late, came only on Twitter, and in English. He attributed the tragedy to "human error at a time of crisis."

Among those who still owe an apology to the nation are Presidential adviser Hesamoddin Ashna who threatened journalists abroad not to write about the cause of crash, as well as a few Iranian journalists in Tehran who responded angrily to anyone who pointed fingers at the military. Some of them have deleted some of their now embarrassing tweets.

Iranian analyst Mehdi Mahdavi Azad asked in a tweet whether Presidential Adviser Hesamoddin Ashna, Iranian Ambassador to London Baeidinejad and others knew they were lying all the time about the event. He also asked "will they be put on trial?"