‘They shot it down.’ A blindingly obvious near-certainty. But, according to one conspiracy theory, the downing of a Ukrainian plane in Iran was a coward’s way of inflicting tit-for-tat.

9 January 2020 By Paul Martin

The chances that an accidental plane crash inside Iran would happen on the same day as Iran was burying its slain mastermind of regional military interventions, or on the same day as Iran hit military bases in neighbouring Iraq, are even more remote.

Just think: there were no plane crashes reported on that day anywhere in the world – except in Iran. That’s already a chance of one in 250 (countries worldwide). Then factor in that a fatal passenger plane crash happens only a few times a year worldwide. So we are talking about one in a million that it was just ‘coincidence’.

Yet the BBC peddled this one too.

Then also, as aviation experts later pointed out, it is very rare for a plane to crash where the pilot does not even send out a mayday emergency signal. That makes the odds of engine failure even greater, indicating an extremely rapid catastrophic failure and downward plummet.

An expert did say this on a BBC programme, more than a day after it happened. But still the BBC would not give its ‘tragic accident’ theory the kibosh.

Of course it was not a missile aiming to hit Iraq that just happened to hit a civilian airliner. Nor was it any other ‘accident’.

It was extremely likely to have been a deliberate rocket or anti-aircraft attack by Iran aiming to down the plane.

Now that could have been because somehow the Iranians thought this airliner was an incoming missile – presumably sent by the Americans. Maybe (well, maybe) they even thought the plane was on a sort of suicide mission to plunge into Iran’s capital city.

However this theory is very hard to justify. For one thing it was heading upwards, rising at over a thousand feet a minute. And secondly, the plane was heading, one must assume, away from Teheran.

Still there may just be a chance, albeit a very small one, that it was a case of paranoid mistaken identity.

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Since writing this analysis, part of what I have said has apparently been accepted by Western leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau says it was a missile strike at the plane but it was “unintentional”. Then President Trump said he also thinks the strike aimed at that plane but was “unintentional”.

The use of those words (“unintentional” or “mistaken identity”) may let Iran off the hook. It is a convenient way of avoiding stoking the tensions in the area still further, and inviting a Western retaliation.

None of this was reflected in the coverage of the BBC and of ITV from Washington. In fact ITV’s reporter made a breath-taking volte face, but neatly managed to on blame for the Iranian shoot-down (sorry, accident) on the United States.

There is a much more sinister possibility. According to one conspiracy theory, Iranian generals or the political leadership may have deliberately shot down that specific plane, because of what it represented.

They might have considered an attack on a Western European airliner too likely to invite outrage and a strong military response from NATO allies.

What more suitable target (albeit that the vast majority of those flying to Canada aboard the plane were Iranians) than striking at an ally of the United States – Ukraine? The airline belonged to the national carrier of a country that is at odds with Iran’s biggest ally, the Russians (whose troops and airforce have saved Iran’s ally President Bashar al Assad in Syria through their military intervention).

And, to give some added credence to this conspiracy theory, Iran has purchased Russian (and possibly Russian-operated) missile batteries.

There is no current evidence for the theory expounded above. But in terms of mathematical probability, it certainly beats all the other theories. Doesn’t it?

Just one sickening footnote: the Iranians have long memories for grievances. And an Iranian airliner crossing over the Persian Gulf going westwards was shot down decades ago – by an American missile.

On 3 July 1988, a US Navy warship, the USS Vincennes, destroyed it. All 290 on board were killed, including 66 children.

The Americans said they had believed the plane was military and could have aimed to crash into (or drop bombs on) the territory of one of their allies, Egypt or Israel.

Could that old atrocity have made the shooting down of an airliner belonging to an American ally, morally justifiable to enraged Iranian hardliners with long memories?

Could it have been tit for tat, a cowards’ version of an old Middle Eastern obsession?

Probably not. But we will never know the true answer to that question.

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