On the 8th of January, a Boeing 737-800 jet flying for the carrier Ukraine International Airlines took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. The 176 passengers and crew on board had no clue what was about to occur. Videos posted to Twitter by Iranian users show that shortly after take-off, Flight 752 was engulfed in flames, and hurtled to the ground and exploded on impact. The Iranian government immediately denied any involvement, instead claiming that a technical issue had occurred which caused an engine fire. As of Saturday the 11th of January, we now know that this was not the case.
Until Saturday, Iranian officials were denying all involvement with the plane crash. Instead, they continued to claim that mechanical issues had arisen, causing a fire to break out in one engine, and leading to the subsequent downing of the plane. The statement released by the Iranian government and military on Saturday confirms the worst possible scenario. In their announcement, Iran issued a statement blaming “human error” for the crash. The military went on to state that, due to heightened tensions in the region, the flight was erroneously identified as a hostile target. “In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the military said.
The response to Iran’s announcement has been swift, with international actors condemning Iran for their actions. Domestically, the nation has been struck with a fresh wave of protests as fury sweeps the population. Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, speaking from Tehran, said: “There is a lot of anger. Iranians are demanding justice and accountability. Many people including families of the victims are in shock. They do not understand why their government would have lied to them for this long.” She goes on to add that, “Vigils that were held near Amir Kabir University quickly turned into anti-government protests with people calling for the IRGC to leave the country.” How this will continue to develop remains to be seen.
Iran’s admission of a mistake is welcomed. There have been many incidents like this in the past – most recently, the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists – where the guilty party refused to acknowledge wrongdoing. However, Iran’s acknowledgement here not only took too long, seeing as they knew immediately after the incident, but also that they continue to blame the United States. In a statement on social media, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that “human error at [this] time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to the disaster.” While American foreign policy has caused tensions, the blame for this latest incident cannot be placed on to them as much as some officials may want to. Had Iran chosen not to respond to the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, or had they selected a non-military method to do so, then tensions would not have reached such a point. As it stands now, 176 families will never see their sons, daughters, partners, or parents again. That 176 civilians were killed at a time of increased tension is an unacceptable tragedy. It can only be hoped that this incident pushes all actors in the region into productive dialogue and that steps are taken to prevent this from ever occurring again.
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