By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
Iran has finally admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane last week in Tehran. It is incumbent on the international community not to let the regime off the hook this time, and hold its leaders accountable for this tragic occurrence.
Iranian leaders first attempted to veil the truth, mislead the international community, and deny any involvement in the plane crash. The regime initially argued that the Ukrainian passenger jet crashed due to technical defects. Tehran rejected cooperation with international investigators. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ali Abedzadeh, said: “We will not give the black box to the manufacturer (Boeing) or America.”
The regime also appeared to rush to conceal evidence after the crash. As a CBS News correspondent tweeted: “CBS crew just visited the #Ukrainian airlines crash site west of Tehran. Nine am local time. Virtually all pieces of the plane were removed yesterday — say locals. Scavengers now picking site clean. No security. Not cordoned off. No sign of any investigators.”
But after Tehran was faced with overwhelming evidence, including credible intelligence reports from different governments as well as a video showing that the plane was hit by a missile over Tehran, the Islamic Republic was forced to admit and acknowledge that it shot down the passenger plane.
The Iranian leaders are currently attempting to minimize their level of culpability by claiming that it was due to “human error” or by pointing a finger at the US in order to avoid being held accountable. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, blamed Washington. Zarif tweeted: “Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
It is also critical to mention that this tragic incident, which occurred as Iran launched dozens of missiles into Iraq, reveals the regime’s total disregard for human life. When carrying out such a major military operation, it was the responsibility of the IRGC to make sure that either the airport was closed, or no passenger plane was in danger. Why did the Iranian leaders let US authorities know about the airstrikes in advance, but fail to notify the airport authorities before launching missiles?
The shooting down of the Ukrainian plane also shows that the theocratic establishment prioritizes military adventurism over human life. Iranian leaders praised their “successful” military operation right after the Ukrainian passenger plane was hit and 176 innocent people lost their lives. Former IRGC commander-in-chief Mohsen Rezaei appeared on Iran’s Channel 3 and offered his congratulations to the IRGC’s missile attack.
“I extend my congratulations for taking harsh revenge to the Leadership and the nation who ‘suffered’ from Soleimani’s (death). This operation was, in fact, the bombardment of both the authority and prestige of the United States.”
It is also worth noting that Iran’s airstrikes were in violation of international rules due to the fact that it violated the sovereignty of Iraq.
The IRGC’s shooting down of the passenger plane has sparked anger and fury inside Iran and abroad. Iranians took to the street protesting against the regime and demanding that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resign.
In front of Tehran’s Amir Kabir University, people are heard chanting: “Commander-in-chief (Khamenei) resign, resign.” People were also chanting “death to the liars” and “death to Khamenei!” They are also criticizing the regime for its belated admission and attempts to conceal the truth.
The regime is resorting to its modus operandi of cracking down on protesters with brute force. Hesham Ghanbari, 27, a university student in Tehran, told Reuters: “Why should I vote for this regime? I don’t trust them at all. They lied to us about the plane crash. Why should I trust them when they don’t trust people enough to tell the truth?”
Many Iranians are familiar with the regime’s careless killing of innocent people. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of people were killed two months ago by the regime forces when people demonstrated against the hike in gas prices.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office is taking the right step in investigating Tehran for possible willful killing and aircraft destruction. European leaders and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must also focus on holding the Iranian regime accountable for killing their citizens.
The shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger plane and the killing of 176 innocent women, men and children ought to be considered a crime against humanity, and it is incumbent on the international community to hold the Iranian regime accountable and bring those responsible for this egregious act to justice.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh