Iran admits it shot down jet, blames human error (and the US)

After an internal investigation by the military, President Hassan Rouhani announced “missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane.” He said Iran regretted the “disastrous mistake.”

A fuller statement published by the BBC shows Rouhani also said said “an atmosphere of threats and intimidation by the aggressive American regime” had Iran’s Armed Forces on alert when a “miscalculated shooting caused a major catastrophe.”

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed those comments, blaming “a crisis caused by US adventurism.”

US progressives have been saying that for days, but not everyone is buying his excuse. I can’t improve on Yashar Ali’s response:

The NY Times reports that plenty of Iranians were expressing their anger on social media:

On social media, Iranians began expressing anger toward the military soon after the announcement, many of them using the term “harshest revenge,” which officials had repeatedly promised in the wake of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Revolutionary Guards commander, last week.

“They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people,” wrote Mojtaba Fathi, a journalist.

The Iranian military’s statement said the plane “took the flying posture and altitude of an enemy target” as it came close to an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base. It said that “under these circumstances, because of human error,” the plane “came under fire.”

What I find most interesting about this belated admission is that it comes after several days of strenuous denials by Iran. Here’s what the NY Times reported Thursday:

A spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, said the crash was not a result of any military action.

“They are spreading propaganda that the Ukrainian flight was targeted,” the Iranian news media quoted Mr. Shekarchi as saying. “This is ridiculous. Most of the passengers on this flight were our valued young Iranian men and women. Whatever we do, we do it for the protection and defense of our country and our people.”

And Friday morning, as leaders in the US and Canada said it looked as if Iran was responsible, Iran again denied it:

“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s national aviation department, told a press conference.

“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world” in accordance with international standards, he added.

Initially, you may recall, Iran claimed the plane had experienced a mechanical failure. But this announcement came before Iran had even examined the wreckage and they definitely hadn’t examined the black boxes. So how could they possibly know?

All of this leads to an obvious question: Is it really possible that Iranian officials didn’t know someone had fired off a surface-to-air missile for three days? Or is it more likely that Iran knew almost immediately what had happened but was hoping to lie its way through this? I’d say the latter is more likely given the immediate claims that this was definitely a mechanical failure. It sounded too defensive. Also, wouldn’t there be some chain of command involved in this?

Assuming this is just a failed cover up, it seems possible one thing that changed the calculus for Iran was the existence and spread of video on social media yesterday which clearly showed a missile impacting the plane. Once the truth was out, it was going to be a tall order to continue denying responsibility. So the best Iran can do now is try to lay off some of the blame on “US adventurism” knowing that lots of progressives in this country will eagerly agree.