Update: Early Saturday, Iran admitted to inadvertently shooting down the plane
Iran is in a tough spot.
The nation’s air defense systems pretty clearly shot down the 737 that crashed outside Tehran Wednesday, shortly after the IRGC concluded strikes on US targets inside Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
And yet, the regime is unlikely to admit to bringing down the airliner, even though it was almost surely an accident. 176 people were killed.
You can add those 176 pour souls to the death toll from a week’s worth of hostilities between the US and Iran, assuming the plane was, in fact, struck by a surface-to-air missile.
Justin Trudeau is dealing with a national tragedy. Dozens of Canadians were killed in the incident and on Thursday, he said Canada’s intelligence concurred with that of the country’s allies: Iran most likely shot down the plane by accident.
As noted on Thursday, it’s likely the country’s air defense systems were activated at the time in case Donald Trump decided to bomb Tehran following the strikes on American troops at US bases in Iraq. New video released Thursday evening appeared to show the moment of impact.
Exclusive: Video verified by The New York Times shows a Ukrainian airliner being hit over Tehran on Wednesday https://t.co/brU9ZRmRX9
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 9, 2020
Iran is still denying culpability. “If they are certain and have the courage, they should share any finding that has scientific and technical backing”, Iran’s chief of Civil Aviation Ali Abedzadeh, said during a briefing on Iranian television Friday.
Unfortunately for Abedzadeh, “they” likely do have “technical backing”. As you might imagine, surface-to-air missiles leave fingerprints. “[There’s] a distinctive trail of evidence after striking an aircraft, such as the pattern of pockmarks in the fuselage, shrapnel wounds in people who were on board — and the data left behind on flight recorders”, Bloomberg notes, adding that “the tell-tale signs should be obvious to experts who have examined previous such instances, such as the Dutch team that issued findings after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014”.
In addition to Canada and the US, the UK and Australia also say they have intelligence which suggests the plane was shot down. Abedzadeh insists it’s “not possible”.
“If there is some physical evidence in the wreckage like this, you’ll see it pretty quick”, an expert told Bloomberg. “Within the first day or two”.
Maybe. Unless of course Iran covers it up. After all, this is terribly embarrassing in addition to being horrifically tragic. It came less than 24 hours after dozens were killed in a stampede in the hometown of Soleimani during the last leg of his funeral procession. While there are, of course, several famous instances of commercial airliners being downed by missiles (one involving the US and an Iranian airliner), the general public will naturally conclude that Iran is so hapless it can’t even manage to get through a straightforward military operation without accidentally shooting down a passenger jet.
Tehran probably won’t be transparent about this. “Iran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself”, Reuters writes, adding that the country said “it could take one or two months to extract information from the voice and flight data recorders [and] the probe might take one or two years”.
With apologies to the dead and the grieving, nobody but the families is going to care in “one or two years”. The reason the Boeing Max debacle will echo for corporate eternity isn’t because the rest of humanity is still mourning the dead, it’s because people are worried they could be next, and also because shareholders don’t want to see their money vaporized like so many souls the company is ultimately responsible for taking.
If the Tehran incident is a matter of a missile strike and Iran can delay the findings for a year or more, when they finally are released, they likely won’t stay on the front page for more than a day if they even make it above the fold in the first place. That’s the unfortunate reality.
Iran did say it may ask Canada, France or Ukraine for help, but Tehran also said Russia is on the list of nations that might be “helpful”. Obviously, Russia would be predisposed to aiding and abetting a coverup. After all, the Kremlin participated in covering up war crimes in Syria, including chemical attacks on civilians.
“We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help”, the above-mentioned Abedzadeh said Friday.
For the sake of the families of those killed, it would be vastly preferable if Iran told the truth about the tragedy as soon as the facts are known. Canada is not angling to assign any blame where that means suggest malice. “This may well have been unintentional”, Trudeau said Thursday.
Even Donald Trump sounds like he wants to give Iran a pass. “Somebody could have made a mistake”, he told reporters Thursday. The plane was “flying in a rough neighborhood”, the president remarked.