The Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday morning — shortly after an Iranian missile strike on U.S. targets in Iraq — may have been shot down. “I have my suspicions,” President Trump told reporters on Thursday. “Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side,” he said of the crash that killed 176 people, casting doubt on initial claims of a mechanical failure. “It has nothing to do with us,” Trump added. “Something very terrible happened.”
President Trump says he thinks Tehran plane crash was not caused by mechanical issues: "I have my suspicions .. Somebody could have made a mistake" pic.twitter.com/r3ecuKtBok
— BNO News (@BNONews) January 9, 2020
Trump made his remarks as reports began circulating that U.S. intelligence now believes the Ukrainian International Airlines 737-800 jet was struck by a surface-to-air missile strike. Two missiles were detected on radar shortly after the plane departed the Tehran airport before dawn on Wednesday. A government official quoted by the Wall Street Journal says the United States has a “high level of confidence” in this theory for the deadly crash. From the outset, Iran has blamed mechanical failures for the crash, but it has refused to hand over the plane’s black box to Boeing.
UPDATE: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, implicated a missile strike as the cause of the crash. Dozens of passengers on the flight were Canadian citizens: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said, suggesting the strike “may well have been unintentional.”
The crash occurred hours after Iran launched missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing American personnel in response to the U.S. drone strike last week that assassinated Iran’s top military commander, General Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani commanded the notorious Quds Force and Iranian-backed militias through the region, and is blamed for contributing to hundreds of American casualties since the launch of the Iraq war.
In a televised address Wednesday, President Trump celebrated the fact that the Iranian attack did not kill any U.S. or Iraqi troops. “We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases,” Trump said. Indeed, the Iranian attacks appeared calibrated to exact a measure of revenge for Soleimani’s killing without creating more bloodshed that could cause the conflict to escalate. A military leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard reportedly said of the strikes: “We did not intend to kill. We intended to hit the enemy’s military machinery.”
The terrible cost of military conflict is often unpredictable. Grotesque mistakes happen. But this much is clear. Trump ordered a strike on a top Iranian government official claiming the U.S. had “caught him in the act” plotting “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.”
The administration has provided no evidence to the public that this is true, and its classified briefing to lawmakers has left many fuming that there was no evidence of an imminent threat. “I didn’t learn anything in the hearing that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already,” said Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. “And none of it was overwhelming that X was going to happen.”
The strike on Soleimani elicited a predictable counter strike by the Iranian government. It may have been intended to be surgical, but it appears to have caused created a collateral catastrophe. Amid the fog of war dozens of civilians are now now dead. The downed airliner reportedly killed 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 20 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 4 Afghans, and 3 citizens each of Germany and Great Britain. There were no survivors.