The Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down minutes after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday. Many on board were Iranians with dual citizenship, while 57 were holders of Canadian passports.
The downing of the plane came at a time when Iranian forces were on alert for U.S. reprisals following tit-for-tat strikes.
A U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3 killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, responsible for building up Iran’s network of regional proxy armies in Iraq and beyond. Tehran responded with missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.
No U.S. soldiers were killed in the retaliatory attack, but in the tense hours after that, the Ukrainian Boeing 737 was cleared to take off from Tehran airport and brought down by a missile fired by mistake.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the shooting down of the plane was a “disastrous mistake” and apologized. But a top Revolutionary Guards commander added to public fury when he said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that an Iranian missile had struck the plane.
The Guards’ top commander, Hossein Salami, said “we are more upset than anyone over the incident,” state media reported. Another commander said Iran did not intend to conceal the cause.
But others said Iran’s enemies, a term usually used to refer to Washington and its allies, were exploiting the incident.
“Iran’s enemies want to take revenge on the Guards for a military mistake,” said Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative to the Quds Force, the overseas Guards unit that Soleimani headed, state media reported.
March towards PARIAH STATUS
Iranian officials sought to portray the plane disaster as a second blow to a nation mourning after Soleimani’s death.
His funeral prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described as a show of national unity. But the displays of emotion have been swiftly overshadowed and protesters on Saturday tore up pictures of the slain general.
While both Tehran and Washington have backed off from intensifying their conflict, the leader of Lebanon’s heavily armed Hezbollah group called on Sunday for Tehran’s allies to begin working to avenge Soleimani’s killing.
Retaliation would happen in the “coming days, weeks and months,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech. Iran-allied Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
The killing of Soleimani dramatically escalated tensions between Tehran and Washington, following months of hostilities since Trump withdrew from a nuclear pact between Iran and world powers in 2018 and then toughened up sanctions.
Britain said its ambassador in Iran was briefly detained on Saturday, which Iranian media said was because he was inciting protests. The envoy said he attended a vigil for plane victims.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the arrest and said Iran “can continue its march towards pariah status … or take steps to de-escalate tensions” with diplomacy.