By ALI CHENAR in Tehran
On July 3, 1988, an Iranian aircraft registered on the radar screen of the USS Vincennes. The U.S. Navy officers on the bridge identified the approaching aircraft as an Iranian Air Force F-14 Tomcat. Though they would later claim that they tried to reach the aircraft on military and civilian frequencies, they failed to try air traffic control, which would have probably cleared the air. Instead, as the aircraft drew nearer, the Americans fired two guided missiles at their target: a civilian Airbus A300B2, killing 290 civilians, including 66 children, en route to Dubai.
Twenty-two years ago, the Iran-Iraq war was well into its eighth bloody year. Then, as now, Iran was considered the foe; and Iraq, the ally. The U.S. government never published a complete report of the investigation and continued to assert that the crew of the USS Vincennes mistakenly identified the aircraft as a fighter jet and acted in self defense. While it expressed its regrets, the United States failed to condemn what happened and never apologized to the Iranian people. The Iranian government asked several times — rhetorically — how a guided missile cruiser, such as the USS Vincennes, equipped with the latest in electronic technology, was unable to distinguish a slowly ascending Airbus from a much smaller fighter jet. After Iran sued the United States in the International Court of Justice, the Americans agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation to the victims’ families. However, it did not escape any Iranian that the United States extracted $1.7 billion, a sum 30 times greater, from Libya as compensation for the victims of the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, which took place the same year.
The immediate aftermath of the tragedy played a significant role in Iranian politics and influenced some major decisions. Many Iranians, including several politicians, read the attack as a signal that the United States would enter the war on Iraq’s side. In fact, Iran accepted a ceasefire less than a month later, in part because the Iranian leadership was certain Iran could not prevail in a war against both Iraq and the United Stated, at least not if the war were waged in a conventional manner.
- Grim Anniversary: Iran Mourns 1988 US Attack on Flight 655 (news.antiwar.com)
- Grim Anniversary: Iran Mourns 1988 US Attack on Flight 655 (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
- Source: Iran preparing to down American passenger planes (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Persian Gulf Fireworks? (battleland.blogs.time.com)
- Iran mourns 1988 airliner downing by US warship (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- July 3 in history (homepaddock.wordpress.com)
- Iran mourns 1988 airliner downing by US warship (miamiherald.com)
- Iran mourns 1988 airliner downing by US warship (sfgate.com)
- Iran mourns 1988 airliner downing by US warship (kansascity.com)
- Operation Eagle Claw: The Disastrous Rescue Attempt During the Iranian Hostage Crisis (mentalfloss.com)