The shooting down of the Ukrainian Boeing 737-800, which had just taken off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on its way to Kiev, was a “human error.” While it would likely not have happened if President Trump hadn’t escalated hostilities by giving the order to kill General Soleimani, it’s also true that at a time of maximum tension, the leadership in Tehran should have closed the airspace over the Islamic Republic.
The protests that broke out Saturday in front of the gates of the Amir Kabir University in Tehran, with slogans chanted against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and many demonstrators carrying images of Soleimani, shows that the sadness for the loss of so many young lives is fueling the anger of the Iranians over the lack of transparency of their leadership. The order to “clean up” the area where the plane crashed on Wednesday as soon as possible, and the four days during which both the Ayatollahs and the Pasdaran denied the plane had been shot down by a missile, have seriously damaged Iran’s credibility.
It was only during the night between Friday and Saturday, in the face of mounting evidence published in the Western media, that General Amir Ali Hajzadeh of the Pasdaran Air Force admitted that it had been one of their missiles that hit the Boeing. It was reportedly the fault of a soldier who, due to a communications error, launched the missile without having received the order to do so, while the Boeing was losing altitude due to a technical problem and was flying too close to a secret base of the Revolutionary Guard.
It happened at a time when tension was at its highest, because just a few hours earlier, the Pasdaran had attacked two US military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
One hundred seventy-six people, passengers and crew, died in the crash. Eighty-two of them were Iranians and at least 57 were Canadians, many of whom were of dual nationality—many of Iranian origin, returning home after the Christmas holidays. The dead included 11 Ukrainians and three British citizens, as well as Germans and Afghans. On behalf of all these victims, Ukrainian President Volorymyr Zelenskiv has called for an official apology from the Iranian authorities, a thorough investigation and monetary compensation for the families.
The leadership of the Islamic Republic has assumed all responsibility, and this should serve to ease the tensions between Tehran and the West. On Twitter, President Rohani wrote: “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.” In another tweet, Rohani added: “Investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake.”
Also on Twitter, Foreign Minister Zarif spoke about “a sad day” and said that “human error at a 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.”
Had Trump not sent the drones to kill Soleimani, this tragic incident would not have happened. But the truth is that as long as Trump is in the White House, the Middle East is unlikely to see peace. And those who are taking advantage of the present situation, marked by instability and confusion, are first and foremost the jihadist groups present in Iraq.
Those who are most rejoicing after the assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis (the head of the Iraqi Hezbollah) are ISIS and al-Qaeda: they cannot but benefit from the elimination of the two military men who have been fighting them off in the region for years, an obstacle against their expansion, also thanks to the sacrifice of thousands of young Shiite volunteers who fought in the name of the defensive jihad ordered by a fatwa (religious decree) of the Great Ayatollah al-Sistani.
Now that Soleimani is dead, the United States and their allies have stopped operations against ISIS in Iraq, and have even stopped training Baghdad’s troops. The Germans are withdrawing their trainers to Jordan and Kuwait. For now, the objective of the Western troops is merely to defend themselves against the Iranians and Iraqi militias who have sworn revenge against those who killed their leaders.
Meanwhile, the parliament in Baghdad is calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Americans from the country. The Iraqi armed forces have been trained by the US military, but they have also been receiving logistical support from the Pentagon, which now—after the Iranian retaliations for Soleimani’s assassination—is likely to be cut off.
As things stand, it will only take a few weeks until the jihadist groups are able to recover some of their lost ground. While it’s certainly true that Soleimani and al-Muhandis were not people we would call “good guys,” their assassination has left the Middle East at the mercy of the jihadists. And it’s all too clear that Trump’s objective is not to make the region safer, but to allow it to be torn apart by the opposing factions.
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