Hajizadeh says air defense system mistook plane for a cruise missile

‘I wished death’ after realizing Ukrainian passenger plane had been mistakenly shot down: IRGC Aerospace Force chief 

January 11, 2020 - 13:53

TEHRAN — Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said on Saturday that he wished he was dead when he heard that his forces have downed a Ukrainian aircraft which crashed near the capital Tehran on Wednesday morning.

“After hearing the news in the country’s west after implementing the military operation against American bases and when I made sure that this incident has happened, I wished I was dead,” said Hajizadeh said a press conference on the Ukrainian plane crash.

“For a lifetime, we put our life on the line for the people, and today we put our honor on the line for God and face the cameras in such difficult circumstances,” he said.

Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility for the incident, saying he had notified related authorities immediately but the public announcement of the matter was pending an investigation by the Armed Forces General Staff as required by existing procedures.

Hajizadeh said Iran’s air defense systems had been put on the “highest level of readiness” and alerted to a possible cruise missile attack prior to the plane crash incident.

“Neither the Guards nor the armed forces never intended to cover up, but this was a process that had to be perused,” he said, according to Press TV.

He added that further judgment on the matter was the responsibility of the higher authorities and the Judiciary and that “we will comply with any decision taken by them”.

All 176 crew members and passengers, 147 of whom were Iranians, died in the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) crash which came a few minutes after take-off from Tehran to Kiev on Wednesday.

Hajizadeh said Iran’s air defense systems had been put on the “highest level of readiness” and alerted to a possible cruise missile attack prior to the plane crash incident.

The IRGC aerospace chief added that the operator manning the system had repeatedly called for a halt in flights in the region during the night.

He added that the operator then identified what his air defense system had detected as an incoming cruise missile 19 kilometers away.

The operator, as required by military guidelines then proceeded to call for orders to deal with the perceived threat, but wasn’t able to do so as his communication network failed to work.

Hajizadeh added that the operator then “took the wrong decision” of firing on the perceived threat in a “ten-second” time span to shoot or ignore the flying object.

The general added that Iran’s aviation authorities had no information regarding the matter and that they, along with the plane’s crew, had conducted no wrongdoing in the incident.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces also issued a statement on Saturday saying that the Ukrainian plane crash was caused by a “human error”.

“The Ukrainian passenger plane was hit unintentionally and due to human error, which unfortunately led to the martyrdom of a number of our people and also a number of foreign nationals,” the statement read.

“Following threats made by the U.S. President [Donald Trump] and military commanders of attacking targets on the soil of the Islamic Republic of Iran in case of Iran’s retaliatory operation, and due to unprecedented increase in movements in the region’s airspace, Iranian armed forces were at the utmost level of readiness and alert,” it added.

It came in the aftermath of a Trump-ordered U.S. attack at Baghdad’s airport on January 3 that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. 

Last Saturday, Trump tweeted that if Iran attacks any American assets to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the U.S. has 52 targets across the Islamic Republic that “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have.........targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump said. “The USA wants no more threats!”

Nevertheless, Iran took revenge for the assassination in the early hours of Wednesday.

The IRGC pointed to the successful Shahid (Martyr) Soleimani Operation against the Ain al-Assad base with tens of surface-to-surface missiles and warned the United States that any more aggression will receive more “painful and crushing” response.