US Diplomats Warn Airliners of Risk of Being ‘Misidentified’ in Persian Gulf

US shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, killing 290 people

In comments seemingly meant to add to panic in the region, US diplomats issued a new warning surrounding tensions with Iran, warning through a statement from the FAA that commercial airliners should avoid flying over the Persian Gulf, or Iraqi and Iranian airspace.

The argument presented is that the commercial airliners would risk being “misidentified” and might get targeted in the area. There was no evidence provided that this might be the case, or that Iran might be likely to make such a mistake.

There is a precedent that the US is very aware of, of course. In 1988, the USS Vincennes, a guided-missile cruiser, attacked and destroyed Iran Air Flight 655, a commercial airliner. The plane was an Airbus A300, and all 290 people aboard were killed in the US attack. The US has never officially apologized for the attack, though they once expressed “regret” for the loss of life. Then-President George H.W. Bush said he would “never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are.”

Even though the Iranian airliner was broadcasting an identification as a civilian aircraft, the US warship misidentified it as a F-14. The US has nominally made improvements to its identification system to prevent such attacks. It’s not clear how confident they are in this, given the warning they made to airliners.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of