Iran must shoulder the blame for UIA Flight PS752 shootdown

Prime Minister Trudeau attends a candlelight vigil in Ottawa on January 9

But tensions created by U.S. escalation of conflict also played a role

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

It was the greatest Canadian disaster since June 23, 1985, when a bomb attack brought down Air India Flight 182, carrying 329 people — most of them Canadian citizens or permanent residents, over the Atlantic Ocean.

On January 8, Iran fired two Russian-made TOR missiles at Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752 just as it took off from Teheran airport, killing all 176 people on board. Of those 176, 138 were connecting in Kyiv to Toronto. This included 57 Canadian citizens. Many of the other 81 were Iranian students studying in Canadian universities, or Iranians who had permanent residency status in Canada, but had not yet obtained citizenship.

At first Iran tried to cover up its actions, claiming the plane had “mechanical problems”. But, as evidence mounted, the country’s military on January 11 admitted the Ukrainian plane was shot down “unintentionally” by an antiaircraft missile.

Canada has demanded compensation for the victims from Iran and a full and transparent investigation.

But as of January 15, Canadian investigators had not yet been allowed access to the flight and cockpit recorders of the plane.

“What we have been told by the Iranians is that we will be allowed to participate in not only the decoding of the [black] boxes, but also the analysis,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told an Ottawa news conference that day.

“We’re standing by at the moment to find out where that is going to happen. We have not had that signal.”

“Canada will not accept a situation where we feel that we’re not being given the information that we’re looking for,” he added. “Make no mistake about it, Canada is going to get to the very bottom of this.”

The next day the foreign ministers of five countries that lost citizens in the downing of the airliner in Iran demanded that Tehran hold a “thorough, independent, and transparent” investigation into the tragedy.

“The eyes of the international community are on Iran today. I think that Iran has a choice, and the world is watching,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne of Canada.

“We are gathering the facts and hard evidence, using all of our networks including our overseas partners and working through our people on the ground in Iran, in order to put a full picture together and deliver the result we all need — justice, for the memory of victims of #PS752,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko tweeted.

While “Iran must take full responsibility,” for downing the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight that was brought down by two Russian-made missiles fired as it took of from Teheran airport on January 8, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the escalation of tensions brought about by U.S. actions is also partly to blame.

“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” Trudeau said in an interview with Canada’s Global Television, on January 13. He added that the international community has been “very, very clear about needing to have a non-nuclear Iran” but also in “managing the tensions in the region that are brought about by U.S. actions as well.”

A few days earlier, CBC senior reporter Katie Simpson stated that the tragedy was an “unintended consequence of a decision made by the U.S. President.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, some Democrats also blamed Trump. Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “This is yet another example of collateral damage from the actions that have been taken in a provocative way by the President of the United States.

“Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat,” tweeted Pete Buttigieg, one of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. “My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight.”

So, is Trump at least partially responsible?

First of all, full blame lies with the Iranian authorities. Even if the shoot down of a civilian plane was unintentional, it still remains a clear case of criminal negligence. If the Iranians were concerned about U.S. responses to their missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq four hours earlier, then they should have shut down the air space around Teheran airport. Period. Yet they gave the green light for the Ukrainian plane to take off as they did for numerous other planes in the area. The Ukrainian plane was following the exact flight path it was told to follow by Iranian air traffic controllers. Several other civilian planes were in the air at the same time. This was also a case of fatal lack of communication between the civilian and military authorities. Even if the Russian-made TOR anti-aircraft missile was on automatic, as opposed to manual control, there is no way it should ever have been fired.

But then, the circumstances that led to the shoot down are a result of Donald Trump’s idiosyncratic, incoherent and reckless approach to foreign policy. There is no question that General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, was responsible for many of the most sophisticated IED’s (improvised explosive device) that killed at least 600 Americans during the conflict in Iraq. As well, he was responsible for planning, coordinating, and supporting a range of malign activity in the region. But assassinating such a high standing foreign leader is bound to have serious consequences. The White House, however, has not provided any evidence to support the claim that he was out to attack four U.S. Embassies. What’s more, both American allies and Congress should have been consulted prior to the attack. None of them were.

Furthermore, the current escalation of conflicts between Iran and the United States ultimately stems from Trump’s uniliteral decision in 2018 to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the “Iran nuclear deal” or the “Iran deal”, under which sanctions were lifted in return for Iran agreeing to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. To monitor and verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was granted regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities.

Although imperfect, the deal nevertheless succeeded in achieving its wide-ranging objective, which was to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia and many other countries wanted to maintain the agreement. As of February 2019, the IAEA certified that Iran was still abiding by the JCPOA of 2015, but that soon changed. Many suspect Trump’s rationale in withdrawing from the agreement was that it was former-President Obama’s agreement – not his. This is similar to his approach to all kinds of other deals – NAFTA, for one. Trump feels that any deal signed by any previous president is no good – only his matter.

This is policy driven by ego – not reason. Perhaps the best example of Trump putting his personal interests ahead of national interest in foreign policy was his attempt to block military aid to Ukraine, which is struggling to contain Russian aggression, unless President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to give him some dirt on Joe Biden. Can you imagine Franklin Delano Roosevelt telling Sir Winston Churchill in 1940 that he will block lend-lease unless the United Kingdom conducts an investigation of his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie?

Let us be clear – there is no excuse for Iran’s shoot down of the Ukrainian airliner and that country must bear full responsibility for this tragedy. But, on the other hand, U.S. foreign policy must be based upon reason and consultation with its allies and between both the executive and legislative branches of government as the founding fathers intended and as has been the norm prior to Trump. It is an approach which has proven successful in the past and by all rights should be continued in the present and future.

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