Iranian President Rouhani’s reference to the 1988 Iran Air tragedy in the last week has not aged well. Within a week, Iran now admits that it shot down the Ukrainian airliner on the day Iranian military fired missiles targeting US military bases in Iraq. However, Iran’s admission and apologies – after days of rejecting the western allegations – may not help Iran come clean
Soon after the US and Iran marginally avoided war, a new diplomatic crisis has engulfed Iran. Days after rejecting the western allegations, Tehran has finally admitted that its military "unintentionally" shot down the Ukrainian jetliner. Tehran's admission ends the saga of allegations and rejections for now. But it may not help the Persian country do away with retributive diplomatic consequences.
The US and the other western powers have been alleging since the beginning that the Ukrainian airliner was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile. Iran, on the other hand, has been denying the allegation and called on the US and Canada to instead share their data about the incident – until they admitted the allegations on Saturday.
Once bitten, twice shy – as the proverb goes – political analysts sense tougher diplomatic pressure may be exerted on Iran after the country admitted of shooting down the passenger jet.
Following the US' assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, the US and Iran were at the brink of war. A US-Iran war in the region could involve the whole region and turn it into a warzone.
Such tensions, however, were not realised because of Iran's well-calculated response. When Iran pledged retaliation, the world worried about the manner of the country's revenge. Many assumed that Iran would retaliate through its proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Popular Mobilization Force in Iran. However, Iran's direct and calculated attacks on US bases – that injured no one – came as a surprise.
Iran had the world's sympathy after Soleimani was assassinated. Even the US' allies – like the UK, France, and the European Union – were not so approving of US President Donald Trump's controversial move.
When Iran showed the world it was capable of perfectly launching missiles, Iran's actions were admired. A "warmonger" president like Donald Trump had to stand back and acknowledge that Iran was "standing down" after the missile attacks.
Once Tehran's situation began to appear stable, allegations of shooting down the passenger jet surfaced and has finally come true with Iran admitting and apologizing. But the new development has once again cornered the country diplomatically.
Even though the US did not have many of its allies on its side during the assassination saga, the White House now has them by its side, against Iran, parroting the same allegations. Government officials from Australia, Britain, Canada and the US – prior to Iran's admission of shooting the plane down – had the similar assumption – as a CNBC report reads – that, "it is likely the Kyiv-bound passenger plane may have been unintentionally struck by a stray missile."
All the passengers on board – 176 people – were killed after the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by Iranian missile "unintentionally" on Wednesday. Even though most of the passengers were Iranians or of Iranian-origin, the other passengers came from Canada, Ukraine and Sweden.
Before Iran took responsibility of the crash of Ukrainian jetliner, a research note published by analysts at Eurasia Group said, "If the preliminary assessments prove accurate, the diplomatic fallout for Iran will be significant in the short term." The research note also says that "the shootdown will jeopardise that diplomatic goodwill, especially if the evidence proves overwhelming and Iran continues to stridently deny it."
After 63 Canadians lost their lives in the crash, Justin Trudeau, the country's prime minister said, "The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile."
Such reactions from western powers, considering US campaigns against Iran and the Persian country's recent announcement to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – a nuclear agreement signed by Iran and seven major world powers – threaten Iran with further unanimous diplomatic pressures and sanctions from the west.
Diplomatic pressure, however, is nothing new for Iran. Since the country's Islamic revolution in 1979, Tehran has persistently been under diplomatic pressure and sanctions from the west. It was only in 2015 that the nuclear deal brought Iran relief from US sanctions. After the US withdrawal from the Iran deal, Trump administration has reinstated sanctions on Iran and mounted pressure on the Iranian government.
But following the plane crush fallout, political analysts fear that Iran may have to suffer harsher diplomatic consequences that could cripple the country's already-struggling economy. In its continuous endeavour to put more pressure on Iran, the US has already been mulling over putting sanctions on the country's textile and metallurgical industries after the missile attacks.
Iran's admission of shooting down the plane may prompt the US president to legitimise severer actions against Iran including imposing sanctions on top Iranian diplomats.
Iranian President Rouhani's reference to the 1988 Iran Air tragedy in the last week has not aged well. Within a week, Iran's admission of an "unintentional" error and apologies – after days of rejecting the western allegations – may not help Iran come clean.