The Iranian situation is getting curiouser and curiouser. The Iranian government has now admitted that they mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 as it was TAKING OFF from Teheran International Airport.
There are so many things “wrong” with this story that it will take some time to unravel the convolutions. Here are some of the conundrums.
The Iran government admitted that they shot down the aircraft in error. Why did they do that?
It was immediately obvious that the plane had been shot down on the basis of a video clip showing a surface to air missile impacting the aircraft. Therefore, the Iranian government had to admit that they fired the rocket that killed Flight 752, but the official explanation that the Iranian military mistook the civilian aircraft climbing away from the airport for an American cruise missile simply doesn’t hold water.
Any radar operator would have immediately recognized the radar signature of a commercial aircraft as opposed to the radar signature of a cruise missile. The Ukrainian aircraft, like all commercial jetliners, was equipped with a transponder designed to identify it to interrogatory radar inquiries. Since the plane was departing under the supervision of Tehran air traffic control system, it would have been virtually impossible for the Iranian military to mistake a Boeing 737 for a cruise missile. More significantly, cruise missiles don’t climb away from their targets. They are also too fast to be taken down by most surface to air anti-missile defenses until Iran happens to have acquired some Patriot anti-missile systems, or their Russian equivalents.
So, why did the Iranian military shoot down Flight 752?
The most obvious answer is that someone on that plane was a target marked for assassination. It could have been an American covert operator, because they frequently use Canadian cover stories, and because Canada has a long history of cooperating with the United States in covert operations against Iran. It could have been a Saudi who was opposed to recent make-nice conversations between the ruling family in Saudi Arabia and the regime in power Iran.
Either one of these is more likely than the “operator error” story because dozens of planes leave Tehran International Airport every day and, depending upon the runways in use, some of those departing planes would have used the same runway as the stricken plane…so why that particular plane rather than the one before it. or the one before that?
The Iranian version of this story doesn’t hold up under even the most cursory investigation. It simply does not make sense from a military perspective, and only makes sense from a political perspective.
This forces us to ask another question. Who, really, benefited from the death of Qasem Soleimani?
The US actually had very little to gain from taking out Soleimani unless you believe unproven American assertions that Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of 600 Americans. If that were true, how come almost no one had ever heard of him until he was assassinated?
When Osama bin Laden was taken out, it might have been an extra-legal action by the United States, but bin Laden was a known terrorist leader, not an official of any national government and no one was surprised — or seriously disturbed — by his death.
However, by taking Soleimani out, Donald Trunk inadvertently did Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a “solid” because Khamenei’s regime was, until very recently, very shaky and, in all likelihood, if there was going to be a regime change, that regime change would have come from the military, and Qasem Soleimani, as the head Iran’s armed forces, was the most likely person to lead such a coup.
Although some Iranians lump Soleimani together with the other leaders of the Ayatollah’s unpopular and repressive regime, it is not uncommon for usurpers to come from the ranks of the usurped leader’s faction.
In fact, one could almost imagine a covert conversation between Ayatollah Khamenei and Donald Trump, perhaps through a private messaging system on a popular social media site:
“Look, Mr. President, we both have the same problem. Me, I am unpopular here in Iran and you are even more unpopular in the USA. Pardon me for saying this, but they want to kick your ass out of town, don’t they?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I would say that I am the most popular president ever.”
“Well, you might say that, but no one is going to. I have a solution if you are willing to listen. Do you know who Qasem Soleimani is?
“No. He sounds like a football player. Who does he play for?”
“He’s one of my top generals, Mr. President, and I think he is planning a coup against me. He’s my Mike Pence.”
“What do you know about Mike Pence? What is that son of a bitch planning now?”
“I don’t know anything about Mike Pence except that he’s a nut case. He would fit in quite well around here. But listen to my deal, Mr. President. I will tell you how to kill Qasem Soleimani. I will tell you where he is going to be. You can get the credit for killing one of the top terrorists, and I will get rid of the thorn in my foot.”
“But what’s in it for me?”
“Do you think anyone’s going to vote you out of office during a war with Iran?”
“You want to go to war with the United States?”
“Of course not, Mr. President. We’re Muslims but we’re not idiots. It will be a fake war, a few missile strikes here and there. We’ll even tell you when and where we are going to fire our missiles.”
“But what’s in it for me?”
“Obama only got bin Laden. I’m giving you the Commander in Chief of the Iranian army. That will put you one up on Obama.”
“Okay. Send me the coordinates and the time he will be there and I will arrange a turkey shoot.”
“Mr. President, we don’t eat turkey.”
“Listen. Do you guys play golf? Do you think we could open a golf resort in Iran?”
Now, I am sure you’re sure this never happened, but are you really sure that you are sure?
Before writing this article I spoke with a number of people who have direct knowledge about these anti-missile systems to confirm my suspicions that it is for all practical purposes impossible for an enlisted man, or even a junior officer, to shoot down a civilian airliner by accident. The feedback was unanimous: there’s no way this could happen by “accident.”
Just as I was about to publish this article, I got a phone call from my friend Jim, a fluent Farsi speaker who is familiar with the situation in Iran, who told me a different version of this story. Apparently, there’s a story floating around that someone paid the soldier who fired the missile that destroyed Flight 752 for the express purpose of destabilizing the current regime.
I can’t verify this but, if you put these two events together, you get a very interesting picture of how someone — and, of course, I don’t know why that someone might be — who, first, takes one of the most important stabilizing influences in the Iranian regime — Qasem Soleimani — off the playing field, and then shoots down an Ukrainian airliner to generate even more domestic unrest in Iran.
If someone actually thought this out and did it, it would have been a brilliant maneuver because, right now, Iran is in no position to go to war with the United States. On the other hand, if this was the work of a madman who just happened to get it right by accident, that isn’t a very good sign for the future of the republic, as long as that person is in charge.