Iran's leaders have a problem they can't fix

Underlying these passions is a deeply-rooted impetus for accountability that has informed the century-plus long struggle for representative government within Iran from the start. Cover-ups are part of the Islamic Republic’s DNA, and those officials who have gone public about the regime’s persistent use of violence against its own population or perversion of its own institutions have typically been detained and silenced.

The rapid admission of official responsibility for the downing of Flight 752 is a rare exception. As the Iranian American human-rights lawyer Gissou Nia has explained, many Iranians are convinced that the tragedy would have been played very differently had the plane crash been purely a domestic affair. By contrast, a crash involving passengers of diverse nationalities, on an American-branded plane flown by a Ukrainian airline to a Canadian destination, involved the global community in the incident and forced Iran’s military to own up to its grievous error.

Even still, Tehran does not yet seem inclined to hold its own commanders accountable. To date, the only apparent judicial actions related to the missile strike on the Ukrainian plane have been directed at those who helped to make the truth known to the world. Iran has reportedly arrested the person who leaked the video that helped open-source investigative journalists confirm the suspicions voiced initially by Canadian and American officials about the crash.