The downing of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran earlier this week was indeed the result of it being hit by an Iranian missile, Iran’s military confirmed on Friday. The incident was a mistake, which they attributed to “human error.”
The plane took off from Tehran’s airport and was flying to Kyiv. Iran says it flew close to a sensitive military site and someone mistakenly reacted. State TV said that those responsible would be held accountable.
Iranian officials had initially denied being involved. It’s not immediately clear how this changed, though Iran had requested Canada and other nations blaming a missile provide the information to them. Fairly quickly Iran’s military came forth to correct the record.
Nobody really thought this was an intentional shoot-down. Rather, this came amid Iran firing missiles at US targets inside Iraq, and was likely on high alert for US retaliation. Still, accidentally hitting a civilian airliner and killing nearly 200 civilians is an embarrassing mistake to have to admit to.
Iranian officials said concern of US retaliation had led to an increase in US flights around Iran, prompting an increase in radar activity across the country. That, and the airliner getting close to a sensitive site, apparently led someone to jump the gun.
Iranian officials referred to the site in question as a sensitive Iranian Revolutionary Guard base, and took the “rotation” of the plane as meaning to move directly over it.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issued apologies to all victims, affected nations, as well as to the Iranian people for the embarrassing incident.
Analysts say Iran is particularly sensitive to the shoot-down of airliners because of the 1988 US attack on Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 people. Iran has long been deeply critical that the US never apologized for this attack, and clearly wants to contrast that with a quick apology of their own.
With a number of the victims on the Ukrainian plane also dual-Iranian citizens, this is potentially a major domestic problem for Iran, and officials seem to believe being honest and apologetic is the best strategy.