Iran’s leadership has turned on its military its response to the downing of a Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in Tehran last week, which killed all 176 people on board.
Iran initially insisted that the plane crashed due to technical issues, but days later admitted that an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) missile system shot down the Boeing-737-800 by mistake.
Iran has promised to prosecute those involved, and senior officials have been quick to accept responsibility for the jet’s downing.
Amirali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guard’s head of aerospace, on Saturday said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accepted full responsibility for the disaster, in a video posted online by Iranian state television.
“I wish I could die and not witness such an accident,” Hajizadeh said, according to Reuters.
The IRCG is deeply connected to the Iranian regime, and answers directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many of the country’s senior officials are former military members, and the IRCG holds deep influence over Iran’s domestic politics and economy.
Although the Iranian government is usually a fervent defender of its military activities, Iranian leaders have, in this instance, chosen to outwardly critique the military.
Rouhani urges the military ‘explain to people’ what is going on
Speaking at a cabinet session on Wednesday morning, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran must “compensate” for the crash.
“We must not abandon this case and must compensate for it,” he said.
“The first thing is to inform people honestly,” he said. “People’s grief will alleviate when they know that we feel responsible for what happened and talk with them honestly.”
The president also promised to review regulations to ensure such incidents would be “unrepeatable,” and promised “more coordination and monitoring” over the military.
“I urge the armed forces and the general staff to explain to people what sessions and meetings were held since the moment that the incident happened to let people know that they did not want to conceal anything from them,” he added.
Iran’s foreign minister said people are fuming after being ‘lied to for a couple of days’
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also rebuked the military for its actions. During an interview while in India on Wednesday, Zarif said that recent heated protests in the country were in response to the Iranian public being “lied to.”
“We’ve had people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days,” he said.
“Our military forces were brave enough to claim responsibility early on. But people are angry even with those two days. That is the expectation that people have with the government — that the government should have disclosed the information,” he added.
Many of the people protesting have taken aim at the country’s leadership, with signs reading “death to the dictator.” Video posted to social media showed some chanting, “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here.”
An Iranian judicial spokesperson, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said Tuesday that an undisclosed number of people had been arrested in connection with the incident.
Experts say the government is struggling to control the narrative after its top commander was killed
Experts say the Iranian government’s U-turn on its military reflects that it is struggling to control the narrative around the downing of the plane.
“The regime is struggling to manage this crisis,” Nader Hashemi, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told The Washington Post.
The domestic crisis comes amid increased tensions between Iran and the US that have brought the countries to the brink of war.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in an airstrike earlier this month. Iran retaliated last week by firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq hosting US and Iraqi troops, though the strikes did not result in any deaths or injuries.