Iran has admitted that its military made an “unforgivable mistake” in unintentionally shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people onboard, after days of rejecting western intelligence reports that pointed to Tehran being responsible.
A military statement early on Saturday via state TV blamed “human error” for the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday in the tense aftermath of strikes on US targets. It was followed by an apology from Iran’s president and condolences from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded on Saturday morning that Iran must make an official apology and agree to a full investigation and compensation, as well as co-operating with Ukraine’s own investigators. “Our 45 professionals should have full access and co-operation to establish justice,” a statement from the presidency said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said his country’s focus remained on “closure, accountability, transparency and justice” for the families of the 57 Canadian victims.
Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, wrote on Saturday: “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.”
The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, wrote: “A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by armed forces: human error at 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.”
The plane was mistaken for a hostile target after it turned towards a sensitive military center of the Revolutionary Guard, the military statement carried on the official IRNA news agency said.
“The military was at its highest level of readiness” amid the heightened tensions with the US, it said, adding: “In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit.”
The military apologized for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such mistakes in the future. The responsible parties would be referred to a judicial department within the military and held accountable, it said.
A fuller explanation and apology would be forthcoming from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards later on Saturday, IRNA news reported, citing an informed source within the Guards.
The jetliner, a Boeing 737, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff a few hours after Iran had launched a barrage of missiles at US forces in Iraq in the early hours of Wednesday.
The military apologized for downing the plane, saying it would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future. It added that those responsible would be held accountable and prosecuted.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the military to investigate “the possible shortcomings or mistakes” that led to the crash.
In a statement, he said there was “proof of human error” and confirmed that he had “requested the relevant authorities to take necessary measures to prevent” it happening again.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif apologized to the families of the victims but laid part of the blame on the US. “Human error at a time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to [this] disaster,” he said.
And Iran’s ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, apologized for sharing “wrong findings” about the crash. He had said Iran was “confident” that a missile had not been launched.
“I conveyed the official findings… that [a] missile could not be fired and hit the Ukrainian plane at that period of time,” he said. “I apologize.”
The strikes on two US bases were retaliation for the US drone strike that killed the powerful Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad on 3 January – the culmination of a recent series of tit-for-tat attacks that threatened to push Washington and Tehran into war.