“We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence,” declared Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, speaking on January 9th of the loss of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Tehran in the early hours of the previous day, killing 63 Canadians and 113 others.
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile (SAM). This may well have been unintentional.” Mr Trudeau added that “the evidence and conclusions are strong enough for me to share them with Canadians”.
The disclosure will come as a blow to the Iranian regime. To the world, it had cast itself as the victim of aggression after America’s assassination of its top general, Qassem Suleimani, on January 3rd. At home, it portrayed itself as a strong regional power, with capable forces able to deliver a prompt and precise ballistic-missile blow to American bases in Iraq. Now it risks being cast as both reckless and incompetent.
Blame the fog of war, perhaps. The plane was hit not long after 6am local time, just four hours after Iran had fired 22 missiles towards American bases in Iraq, in what turned out to be largely symbolic retaliation for General Suleimani’s assassination. Iranian defences were presumably on the alert for American reprisals for the missile strikes. “It's precisely the kind of mistake that happens when military units are on guard against being attacked,” tweeted Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the Middlebury Institute.
Iran’s response to the disaster had already aroused some disquiet. It was quick to blame a mechanical fault. Though the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800’s black-box flight recorders were soon recovered, it did not offer to share them with American or other Western investigators, who are often asked to help, and invited in the Ukrainian authorities instead.
Only after reports emerged of the shooting-down did it announce it had invited Boeing to join the investigation. Several photographs of unknown provenance and veracity earlier circulated on social media appearing to show the guidance system of a Russian-made SA-15 missile in a garden near the crash site.
On January 9th Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said that Ukrainian investigators were looking into the matter. Iran continues to reject suggestions that it shot down the plane. “Scientifically, it is impossible...and such rumours are illogical,” declared Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation.
But Mr Trudeau’s comments followed news reports indicating that American intelligence agencies had detected a pair of missile launches shortly before the plane got into trouble. CBS News reported that American satellites had detected a radar being turned on, infrared blips from two missile launches and then a further blip from the plane’s explosion. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on The Economist website.