In all similar plane crashes, countries involved were reluctant to admit the error, Iran’s admission that it had mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet on Wednesday is unusual, but laudable at this point of history.
Iran has shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 through a missile on January 8, 2019. But this is not the first time that a civilian aircraft has been brought down to the ground by firing missiles.
On the dawn of July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes misread signals from a plane taking off from the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas. Captain William C Rogers concluded that the plane was an F-14 fighter jet preparing for an attack run. The US naval ship fired two surface-to-air missiles, one of which hit the jet. But soon it was discovered that instead of an F-14, the airplane was Iran Air Flight 655. On board were 290 passengers and crew, mostly Iranian, all of them civilians.
Back in 1988, United States described the incident as "a terrible human tragedy" and "expressed deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident," but it has never formally apologised. Later, in April 1990, two top officers on the USS Vincennes during the Flight 655 accident were awarded medals for "meritorious service," though they were given in spite of – not because of – the Iran Air incident and the US navy said that Rogers and some of his officers made mistakes in connection with the shooting, the commendations were awarded for their "contributions to the USS Vincennes over their entire tour on board."
In 2001, Ukraine inadvertently shot down a Tupolev Tu-154 plane, en route to Russia from Israel, initially denying responsibility. Later an investigation found that the Ukrainian military was responsible for the crash. Only then, Ukraine accepted full responsibility and signed a settlement agreement with both Israel and Russia.
The latest encounter prior to Iran bringing down the Ukrainian passenger jet occurred on July 17, 2014. This time the plane belonged to Malaysia and the flight number was MH17. MH17 was shot down over the conflict zone in Ukraine's Donetsk region. Though investigations found Russian involvement in the accident, Russia however till now has not accepted the allegations brought against them.
Iran on the other hand, after initial denial, has admitted that it has "unintentionally" shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board.
On Saturday morning, an Iranian military statement read on state TV announced that it had struck flight PS752 with a missile by mistake.
The plane had flown near a "sensitive military centre" of the Revolutionary Guards, a force set up to defend the country's Islamic theocracy.
Because of heightened tensions with the US, Iran's military "was at its highest level of readiness", the statement said. "In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit," it added.
President Rouhani expressed his condolences. He in a tweet said, "Armed Forces' internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people. Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake."
The world has also appreciated of Iran taking the responsibility. Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent of BBC wrote, "This is a major admission at a crucial moment for Iran. Taking responsibility for such a tragic error is highly unusual, but so is the crisis that now confronts the Islamic Republic."
"Iran has decided it has to own this disaster to avoid it triggering another war of words with the west or exacerbating further anger and anguish among its own people, who are reeling from one calamity after another," she adds.
She further wrote, "Make no mistake, this was an act of de-escalation. The repercussions at home may soon be clear. Iran's foreign minister has already sought to shift blame by saying it was 'a crisis caused by US adventurism.' But the big question now is: who took the decision to allow a civilian airliner to take off when Iran's airspace was shot through with such tension?"
The military apologised 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.
As the history shows the reluctance of the blamed states to take accountability for the attacks that transpired, Iran has accepted the blame that was brought upon them. The lives of the deceased will not be back, but it is sign of good statesmanship to admit to one's mistakes. Perhaps such accountability would lead to more caution on the part of the army involved, which might stop any further loss of civilian lives.