The mystery surrounding Ukrainian International Flight 752 turns out to be not so mysterious after all. Both Newsweek and CBS now report that US and Iraqi officials have evidence that the Iranians mistakenly targeted the flight with anti-aircraft fire during their missile attack on American positions in Iraq. Their assessment is not just based on the photos, but also on comms intel that shows Iranian military forces lighting up the flight on its radar before it burst into flames:
The Ukrainian flight that crashed just outside the Iranian capital of Tehran was struck by an anti-aircraft missile system, a Pentagon official, a senior U.S. intelligence official and an Iraqi intelligence official told Newsweek.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737–800 en route from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airpot to Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, stopped transmitting data Tuesday just minutes after takeoff and not long after Iran launched missiles at military bases housing U.S. and allied forces in neighboring Iraq. The aircraft is believed to have been struck by a Russia-built Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, known to NATO as Gauntlet, the three officials told Newsweek.
Two Pentagon officials assess that the incident was accidental. Iran’s anti-aircraft were likely active following the country’s missile attack, which came in response to the U.S. killing last week of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, sources said.
The Tor or Gauntlet system is also known as the SA-15, a vehicle-based artillery system that has an operational range of 500 kilometers and altitude reach of 20,000 feet. The system has its own radar operation, which US forces noticed at the time. CBS News also reports that US satellites picked up two missile launches just prior to seeing the plane burst into flames:
NEW: "CBS News has learned U.S. officials are confident that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in the hours after the Iranian missile attack on U.S. targets. 176 people were killed, including at least 63 Canadians." https://t.co/BLBUKzzbO6 pic.twitter.com/EHENM9HgqM
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) January 9, 2020
.@cbsnews: US officials are confident Ukrainian Flt 752 was shot down by Iran. US intelligence picked up signals of the radar being turned on & satellite detected infrared blips of 2 missile launches, probably SA-15s, followed shortly by another infrared blip of an explosion.
— Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave) January 9, 2020
The debris had been rumored to include remains of a Tor missile, but it’s the verified pictures from the crash site that raises questions. Some of the pieces on the ground have tell-tale holes through them that strongly suggest a missile strike. As CBS notes, they look a lot like the wreckage from the July 2014 shootdown of the Malaysia Air flight over Ukraine by a Russian anti-aircraft system:
Iran remains very quiet about the crash, but is still refusing to turn over the black boxes to Boeing for an independent look at the data. As I noted earlier this morning, Tehran might find itself in the same position as the USS Vincennes thirty-two years ago, having made the only casualties of its strike on US forces these civilians over Iranian territory. Don’t expect them to rush to admit that, nor to admit it at all — not without a lot of pressure to do so.