Photos of some of the victims killed in the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 outside Tehran this week are shown at the site of a candlelight vigil held Thursday night in Toronto. Many of the dead were Canadian citizens. (Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Crash will Undermine Iran’s International Reputation, Analysts Say

Canadian, British leaders say evidence shows anti-aircraft missile brought down Ukrainian airliner just after Tehran takeoff

Iran’s diplomatic and military reputation will be significantly harmed if it caused the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane, analysts have told The Media Line.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was evidence that indicated a surface-to-air-missile took down the Ukrainian International Airlines jet heading from Tehran to Kyiv early on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

“This may well have been unintentional,” Trudeau told reporters on Thursday.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor, a global consultancy group, told The Media Line that the strength of Iran’s military will be questioned if it accidentally took down a plane.

“It will show that they are not nearly as competent as [Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian military are trying to make themselves out to be,” he said.

Bohl added that Iran will have to be more transparent to maintain relations with other countries, making it harder for Tehran to withhold the airliner’s so-called black boxes.

“If they want to maintain their diplomatic posture where they’ve been looking like a victim in the course of this US-Iranian confrontation, [then] they’re losing that through this. That’s a big impact on their diplomatic reputation,” he said.

The crash took place after Iran struck two bases in Iraq hosting American-led foreign troops in retaliation for Washington’s killing of top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

Bohl stated it was highly unlikely that Iran would intentionally bring down an airliner.

While he believes it is in US interests to place the blame on Tehran, Canada’s comments give the accusation significantly more credibility.

“The US does have an incentive to discredit the Iranians in the wake of those missile attacks, to make the narrative that the Iranians are not as competent a military force as the Iranians are claiming to be,” he said.

The New York Times posted a video online saying it showed the missile striking the Ukrainian plane.

Iran has rejected accusations that it caused the crash but said countries that had passengers on board could send officials, and that the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, could investigate the black boxes, according to the Reuters news agency.

The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority told CNN that Ukrainian aviation experts had arrived in Tehran and would analyze the black boxes on Friday.

Aviation expert Paul Charles told The Media Line that the lack of a mayday call from the pilots suggested that whatever the cause was, it happened suddenly.

“It seems there was no communication from the pilots before the crash, and that would obviously suggest something happened very fast to bring that aircraft down,” he explained.

Charles said it was a top priority for investigators to get to the crash site as quickly as possible to look for signs of the cause. He added that since the passengers were of several different nationalities, it means that numerous countries will be pressing for answers.

If Iran’s national flag carrier, Iran Air, wants to have access to other countries, Tehran needs to be seen as working with other governments, Charles added.

“It would be unwise for Iran to be seen to be isolating itself in aviation circles,” he said.

Charles believes that a maintenance inspection done on the aircraft two days before the crash might be connected, as other crashes have occurred within hours of such checks when something was not done properly.

Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, stated that Iran would face major consequences not only internationally, but domestically, if it did bring down the airliner.

“Given that a vast majority of the passengers were either Iranian citizens or Iranian dual nationals, this scandal would further exacerbate the regime’s legitimacy deficit at home and brew further discontent,” Erdemir wrote in an email to The Media Line.

“Internationally, Iran’s image as a rogue regime would be strengthened, further tarnishing the image of its political and military leadership,” he said. “The Iranian officials’ refusal to be forthcoming and transparent in the aftermath of the crash will only aggravate the crisis and the ensuing fallout.”

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