IRGC Releases Details of Accidental Downing of Ukrainian Plane

Please consider this as a PSA; I won’t even be able to participate in the comments thread until tomorrow.  Please bring what you glean from it or b’s commentary on the report.)

From b at moonofalabama.org, Jan. 12, 2019: ‘Was The Shootdown Of The Ukrainian Airplane Near Tehran Intended, A Screw-Up Or A ‘Mistake’?

“An analysis of the circumstances under which the incident took place unfortunately shows that nothing went wrong. The strategic and tactical decisions that were made were all rational and made sense. But unfortunately shit happens even when everything else works as it is supposed to work.

The Iran Front Page has now published a full English language transcript of the press conference by IRGC Aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh. It also provides a video with English subtitles of the talk. The narration he gives is highly plausible and has no contradictions within it.”
(All content at Iran Front Page is listed as Creative Commons; it answers some of my questions, but muddies others, especially “ whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic“; all bolds are mine):

IRGC Releases Details of Accidental Downing of Ukrainian Plane’, Jan. 11, 2020

Commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Amir-Ali Hajizadeh has, in a press conference, outlined the details of an “unintentional” downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane, which crashed in Tehran Wednesday.

In his comments on Saturday, Brigadier General Hajizadeh said the IRGC Aerospace Force accepts full responsibility for the tragic incident, and is ready to obey any decision made by the country’s top officials.

“I heard about the heart-breaking crash of the Ukrainian Airline’s passenger plane when I was in the country’s west following the missile attacks operation against the US bases.

When I made sure that has happened, I really wished I had died and wouldn’t see that happening, he noted.

“We sacrificed our lives for the people for a lifetime, and today we trade our reputation with God Almighty by appearing in front of the cameras to give explanations under such difficult circumstances.”

Hajizadeh said the situation was highly sensitive and critical at that night, following the IRGC’s missile attacks on the US bases, and Iran had even received reports of cruise missiles fired by the US against Iranian positions.

He said the operator had mistaken the passenger plane with a cruise missile, and took down the passenger plane after he failed to contact his commanders.

What follows is the full text of his remarks at the press conference:

‘I heard about the heart-breaking crash of the Ukrainian Airline’s passenger plane when I was in the country’s west following the missile attacks operation against the US bases. When I made sure that has happened, I really wished I had died and wouldn’t see that happening. We sacrificed our lives for the people for a lifetime, and today we trade our reputation with God Almighty by appearing in front of the cameras to explain under such difficult circumstances. At the beginning of my remarks, I should say that higher-ranking bodies and the Judiciary will investigate and probe into the incident, and the information will be completed. I should say here that we accept full responsibility for the action, and will obey any decision our officials would make.

This was what I wanted to tell you first. But regarding the details of the incident, I should say; well, you know the region’s conditions remained tense and the risk of conflict was high for over a week. It was really unprecedented compared to what we saw in previous years, even since the 1979 Revolution. The risk of conflict was very high; both the Americans and the Iranian Armed Forces were on highest alert. The Americans had also threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.

Therefore, all the offensive and defensive units were on high alert. Well, the [air defence] systems deployed in Tehran as well as the Tehran Air Defence were in the same situation. What we know from our investigations and from what our friends explained is that, well, at that night, for example from [Tuesday] evening, the level of preparedness was at wartime conditions; the highest alert level communicated by the integrated air defence to all systems. Under such circumstances, a number of air defence systems was added to Tehran’s air defence ring. The first system – which was behind the incident – was deployed in Bidganeh in western Tehran.

At several stages, the Alert Level 3, which is the highest level, is communicated and emphasized to the entire network. So all air defence systems were at highest alert level. For several times, these systems including the one involved in the incident were notified by the integrated network that cruise missiles have been fired at the country. For a couple of times, they receive reports that ‘the cruise missiles are coming, be prepared’.

So you see the systems were at the highest alert level, where you should just press a button. They had been told cruise missiles were coming, and the air defence unit engaged in this incident and fired a missile. Now we have arranged an interview with this operator, which will be released soon as part of the plan to publicize the issue. He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’ At the Alert Level 3, this is normal; such requests are made; well our dear brothers didn’t follow up the issue for certain considerations. So the planes fly despite the wartime situation.

In those moments when the incident happens, this air defence unit realizes that there is a target – which it identified as a cruise missile – at a distance of 19 kilometres. Now I’m explaining it on the map. This is the place where the air defence unit is deployed … here is the city of Tehran … This is the air defence unit deployed here at 00:00 (Wednesday), and was prepared. And here’s the Imam Khomeini Airport. This plane takes off from here and takes this direction. It means this is the impact point. Given the information sent to this operator – that it is a wartime situation and a cruise missile has been fired – this poor guy identifies it as a cruise missile.

Well at such a situation, he was obliged to contact, get approval. This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic. For that reason, he fails to contact [his commanders]. He had 10 seconds to decide; he could hit or not hit [the target]. Under such circumstances, he decides to make that bad decision; he engages, the missile is fired, and the plane is hit at this place. Then it returns through this track, and here’s the point where it hits the ground. I must explain some points here.

Before the announcement of the Armed Forces, the country’s Aviation Organization strongly defended [its stance] and insisted no missile had hit the plane, and that the issue was under investigation. I should firstly say they were acting based on their own knowledge; they weren’t aware of this incident. I should clarify when I was informed of the incident on Wednesday morning, I immediately reported it to the country’s officials. They [in turn] told me ‘we have hit a target’.

But this symmetry made me suspicious. I was at the country’s west; I immediately headed towards Tehran. Halfway through, I called officials and told them, ‘This has happened; I think we have most likely hit our own plane’. Upon arrival in Tehran, I found that the General Staff of the Armed Forces has formed an investigation team, and has totally quarantined the team and all those involved in the issue. So we weren’t allowed to say anything to anyone. We had broken the news [to the officials], but investigation had to be carried out. It took a few days to publicize the news, but that wasn’t because anyone wanted to hide the truth; rather, this is the normal procedure; the General Staff must probe into the issue.

Well, they did it. It was Friday morning when almost all the information had been gathered and it was clear what had really happened. Well, some have made mistakes in this case; things have happened, and after that, the General Staff has publicized the issue. Look, I repeat myself; I informed the officials in the first hour I received the news; from that time on, it was up to the General Staff – which said must probe into and assess the issue. They really did it quickly, and carried out the investigation in 48 hours.

Our dear brothers at the Aviation Organization categorically rejected the possibility of a missile hitting the plane; they acted based on what they knew. I must say they were not guilty and have nothing to do with this. All the blame is on us; they’re innocent. The plane was also on its track, it made no mistake. It did the right thing, as did the Aviation Organization. Everyone did the right thing. Only one of our forces made a mistake. Since he is under our command, we are responsible for that. We must be accountable.

Following the investigations, our friends [at General Staff] publicized the issue; but the Aviation Organization, based on its own experience – after all, they are not military – argued that if a missile hits a plane, it must explode up in the air. Well they said the plane has not been destroyed; it has turned around and wanted to land. Look, since the plane has been hit at a low altitude by a short-range missile with a small warhead and proximity fuze, it has exploded at the proximity [of the aircraft]; so the plane has found the chance to fly for a while; it hasn’t exploded in the air. After hitting the ground, it has collapsed.

So no one at the Aviation Organization knew about it, and I should defend my dear brothers there. This was what really happened; so neither the Armed Forces nor the IRGC wanted to hide the truth. But there was a procedure, which is over now. We’re sorry for the incident. We share the grief with the families of our martyrs, and empathize with them. We have lost our dear ones, and are sorry. These are after all the price of the mischief, tensions, and measures of the US in the region. At that night, we were totally prepared for a full-fledged war. I was in the country’s West and was expecting a war at any time. Because there were numerous planes flying over the region; warplanes, some bombers they had brought into the region. We had the possibility of a cruise missile launch and entry of those warplanes. We had prepared ourselves for an all-out war. Well unfortunately here a great disaster has happened due to a hasty decision made by an individual.

[Asked about the authority that refused to grant no-fly zone permission] Look, I don’t want to pin the blame on anyone here. We’re just giving the details [of an incident]. The relevant authorities must investigate; they will investigate and clarify these issues. I believe under war conditions the relevant authorities must have done that [establish no-fly zone] but it didn’t happen anyway.

No look, the problem was not with the Aviation Organization. They weren’t asked to [restrict the flights]. The blame is on the Armed Forces. So whatever mistake and error made and any problem must be blamed on the Armed Forces. There was no fault on the part of the state sector and the Airports Company. They did nothing wrong. Others were responsible in this regard. They must have controlled and commanded the situation; as at that night I was commanding and controlling our missile attacks in the country’s West; similar in this sector, other brothers were in charge, and they must have controlled it.”

Again, bernhard has commentary on the report at his site.

(cross-posted from Café Babylon)

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PriceRip's picture

          This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic. For that reason, he fails to contact [his commanders]. He had 10 seconds to decide; he could hit or not hit [the target].

          Damn Trump to hell …

RIP

I add in this footnote for those that will not understand my cryptic comment above:

          In my opinion the operator (referenced in the text) is not to blame for this awful series of events. I would not be surprised if we hear a story of a suicide (or attempt of same) in the not too distant future. As is all too common that those poised to initiate actions that generate awful results are "required" to act with incomplete information. This is something that our Idiot-in-Chief is not capable of understanding.

          The jerk in the White House will get us all killed, not for some grand ideal, but for some idiotic, ideological, idiopathic neurological event of zero significance.

RIP

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"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

CB's picture

@PriceRip

Of aircraft, horses and zebras

When you go to vet school, they teach you a simple principle: if you are under a bridge and you hear hooves, think of horses first, but don’t forget there are also zebras out there.

This is exactly what comes to my mind when I hear all the speculation about the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner by a IRGC SAM.
Let’s begin with a few horses:

Seems to me that the most logical assumption and assume human error, especially since the Iranian have already admitted full responsibility. Furthermore, there is no imaginable reason for the Iranian to have shot down this aircraft deliberately (did you know that most of the passengers were either Iranian nationals or of Iranian descent?).

Next, for the life of me I don’t see how Iran can be accused of trying to hide the truth when then admitted full responsibility even long before the investigation was concluded. Not only that, but HAD they wanted to hide the truth, it would have been extremely simple, really: they were in FULL control of a war zone. They could have ejected all civilians and claimed that the US had bombed the location to conceal its role, or something equally insipid. Instead, they first said “show us your evidence” and then they declared “we will show you OUR evidence which shows OUR guilt”. Compare that with what the US does when it shoots down and airliner (either when they admit it, like the Iran Air 665, or when they cover it up, like TWA 800 or Itavia Flight 870 or, even more crucially, all the CIVILIAN Soviet airliners shot down over Afghanistan by CIA run insurgents!).
...
So what are we hearing, horses or zebras?

Frankly, I would love to blame it all on the US or Israel but, alas, I don’t see even a shred of any real evidence supporting this hypothesis. Maybe we will see it in the next few days, weeks or months, and I will GLADLY admit that I was wrong. But, alas, the way I see it is that the most logical and likely explanation is a major, huge and most embarrassing SYSTEMIC problem in the Iranian air defenses.

This says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about “the regime” or about “the Mollahs” or anything else. There have been quite a few civilians airliners shot down by mistake and even deliberately, and there will be more. To blame “the regime” for that monumental screw-up is simply illogical to the extreme. This kind of misguided logic makes someone always blame “the regime” when accidents happen in a country one does not approve off, but only blame “fate” or the “will of God” or even “Murphy’s Law” when (even HUGE) accidents happen in politically correct-countries. This is not only hopelessly partisan, this is also infantile.
...
As for the actions of “the regime” I find them almost ideally honest, open, speedy and honorable. In fact, almost too honorable. I understand that the IRGC is an elite organization which will demand that some of its leaders now “fall on their swords”, but I am actually concerned that the Iranian authorities are almost TOO willing to accept blame. I still think that there are waaaay too many unanswered questions and until we get clear answers, including to nitty-gritty “details” answers, we ought to wait before jumping to any conclusions.
...

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wendy davis's picture

@CB

Then there is the Ukrainian PIC. The logical thing for him to do would have been to contact his corporate bosses in Kiev and they might even have contacted the Ukrainian authorities. The question is WHO and WHY took the decision to take off when the situation was self-evidently fantastically dangerous.

Questions, questions and more questions indeed…
Now a look at zebras

Could a US drone have shot the airliner? Could the US have conducted a cyber-attack?

Maybe. But, as I often like to remind everybody, “possible” is very, very far form “likely”.

For example, what would be the US motive? I don’t see one.

Why choose a Ukrainian airliner? Again, this makes no sense to me.

Then, a cyberattack is all fine and dandy until we look into details.

Was the putative cyberattack directed at, hmmmmm what exactly?! The computers are radars of the civilian ATC? The IRGC air defense network? The specific SA-12 battery? Maybe the Ukrainian airliner? Maybe at all of these at the same time?

now i'm not entirely sure that he'd watched the press conference or read the transcript in the OP, so there's the possibility he hadn't known what General Hajizadeh said in this report.

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wendy davis's picture

@PriceRip

Boss Tweet, as both FM zarif and rouhanni have noted. as for the operator, he's said not only that he wishes he were dead, but that he wishes he'd been on that plane. as for the 10 seconds:

"whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic", i wasn't able to make out what he'd said as to why there was indeed so much commercial traffic going in and out of the Imam __airport. but of course i'd thought one entity or other had jammed the systems, most particularly israel. yes, a paranoid thought.

[Asked about the authority that refused to grant no-fly zone permission] Look, I don’t want to pin the blame on anyone here. We’re just giving the details [of an incident]. The relevant authorities must investigate; they will investigate and clarify these issues. I believe under war conditions the relevant authorities must have done that [establish no-fly zone] but it didn’t happen anyway.

No look, the problem was not with the Aviation Organization. They weren’t asked to [restrict the flights]. The blame is on the Armed Forces."

okay, rereading it all w/ fresh eyes, i guess he hadn't doubled back on his report as i'd thought earlier.

i haven't had the time to read b's commentary, but earlier scanning i remember 'fog of war', but i dunno which part of the fog he'd meant.

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upon seeing this aren’t very flattering. Can any of you imagine this response coming from our own military?

Me neither. Tell me again why we have any credibility in the rest of the world. How likely do you think any sort of self analysis might rise within our people or the government? These are deeply troubling questions.

I hope I’m wrong but I expect lots of gloating and not just from the Serial Tweeter in Chief.

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wendy davis's picture

@vtcc73

there've been any number of reminders that the US never takes responsibility for the jets it's hot down, including this number FM zarif had mentioned to trump on twitter: '290', after boss tweet had chosen 52 cultural sites in to blast because: the iranian hostage situation (oh, the irony!)

"In 1988, the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian passenger jet, killing 290 civilians; Some members of the crew that shot the plane down were later awarded medals, and the United States has not formally apologized for the event."

, snopes.com

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edg's picture

@vtcc73 @vtcc73

Hmmm, I wonder what the US response would be. If only there were something in history to tell us.......

In 1990, Captain Rogers, Commander of the American warship USS Vincennes, was awarded the Legion of Merit decoration "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The award was given for his service as the Commanding Officer of Vincennes, and the citation made no mention of his downing of Iran Air 655 that killed 290 Iranian civilians on July 3, 1988. The Vincennes was operating inside Iranian territorial waters at the time.

Source: Wikipedia

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wendy davis's picture

@edg

look just above your head. ; ) 290, darlin'.

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wendy davis's picture

now as andre damon notes, this is only IF the anonymous insiders at the NY/CIA Times are telling the truth, but:

The assassination of Qassem Suleimani and the criminalization of US state policy13 January 2020, andre damon, wsws.org

"On Sunday, the New York Times published a detailed account, based on high-level sources within the US government, of the Trump administration’s decision to murder Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani on January 3, 2020.

The Times report makes clear that, far from being a spur-of-the-minute decision by Trump, the murder of Suleimani had broad support within the executive branch and the intelligence agencies, which had planned this crime for the past 18 months. The account implicates former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel in advocating and plotting the murder.

The Times report presents a picture of a criminal state, in which the most flagrant violations of the law are treated as routine. It is a testament to the degree to which US foreign policy has been criminalized after nearly two decades of the “war on terror.”

This normalization of illegality extends to the press. The tone of the Times report is that of an adventure story. There is not a hint of a critical attitude toward the flagrantly criminal character of the actions it describes. The word "legal," or any variant of it, simply does not appear in the body of the text.

The article makes clear that the Trump administration’s motives for murdering Suleimani had nothing to do with a supposedly “imminent” threat, as claimed by White House officials. Rather, the United States wanted to retaliate against Suleimani for a series of US policy setbacks for which the American state held him responsible.

The Times writes:

By the end of 2019, General Suleimani could boast of a number of Iranian accomplishments: [Syrian President] Mr. Assad, a longtime Iranian ally, was safely in power in Damascus, Syria’s capital, prevailing in a bloody, multifront, years long civil war and the Quds Force had a permanent presence on Israel’s frontier. A number of militias General Suleimani had helped foster were receiving salaries from the Iraqi government and exerting power in Iraq’s political system.

The Times continues, “For the past 18 months, officials said, there had been discussions about whether to target General Suleimani.”

It states:

By the time tensions with Iran spiked in May with attacks on four oil tankers, John R. Bolton, then the president’s national security adviser, asked the military and intelligence agencies to produce new options to deter Iranian aggression. Among those presented to Mr. Bolton was killing General Suleimani and other leaders of the Revolutionary Guards. At that point, work to track General Suleimani’s travels grew more intense.

By September, the United States Central Command and Joint Special Operations Command were brought into the process to plan a possible operation.

Just days before he was killed, Suleimani met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. Nasrallah warned him, according to the Times, “that the American news media was focusing on him and publishing his photograph.” The newspaper quotes Nasrallah as saying, “This was media and political preparation for his assassination.”

In the days leading up to the strike, CIA Director Gina Haspel advocated for the murder, according to the Times, arguing that “the consequences of not striking General Suleimani were more dangerous than waiting.” Haspel presided over a CIA “black site” torture facility under George W. Bush and was implicated in the destruction of CIA tapes of detainees being subjected to waterboarding.

Among the most revealing elements of the report is the following sentence: “He [Trump] told some associates that he wanted to preserve the support of Republican hawks in the Senate in the coming impeachment trial.” In other words, if the Times’ account is true, domestic political calculations played a significant role in this crime.

there's more, of course.

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@wendy davis to Wag the Dog a la trump.

Does anyone else get the feeling that cautionary tales have instead been textbooks: 1984, Wag the Dog, Dumb and Dumber (than fuck)? Anyone? Bueler?

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wendy davis's picture

@vtcc73

but i'd add the caveat damon had: "If it's all true", but it makes sense that his administration's playing to the True Neocon Believers.

but the NYSlimes had also quoted 'anonymous high-ranking military officials' earlier saying Boss Tweet srsly means to get out of NATO/africom (rubbish)...which led to the Defense of Nato Act, almost unanimously passed in the Senate, maybe not so unanimous in the House with some not having shown up to vote.

when i woke up this morning i'd realized anew that the president of this #shithole nation is a Reality Teevee star. gobsmacking.

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wendy davis's picture

Official: Canada, US, France Refuse to Help Decoding Black Box’, farsnews.com, monday, jan. 13:

“...Head of the Accident Investigation Board of the Civil Aviation Organization Hassan Rezayeefar announced on Monday.

Then Iran offered Ukraine, Sweden, Britain, Canada, and the US to send the black box to an impartial laboratory and France was the country all five countries agreed on, the official added.

Black box recordings of the Ukrainian airliner will be downloaded in France, head of the accident investigation board of Civil Aviation Organization of Iran announced on Saturday.
He added that although Iran made use of all its facilities to examine the content of the black box inside the country, the efforts yielded no good result. It will be sent to France so that its black box is downloaded there to avoid any damage to it.

As Rezayeefar said, Iran and France have an agreement to download planes' black boxes.

However, all those decisions have been taken before the Saturday statement of the General Staff of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Armed Forces about the plane crash, the official noted.

now i have no idea how to parse that final sentence, do you?

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