Commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Amir-Ali Hajizadeh has, in a press conference, outlined the details of an “unintentional” downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane, which crashed in Tehran Wednesday.
In his comments on Saturday, Brigadier General Hajizadeh said the IRGC Aerospace Force accepts full responsibility for the tragic incident, and is ready to obey any decision made by the country’s top officials.
“I heard about the heart-breaking crash of the Ukrainian Airline’s passenger plane when I was in the country’s west following the missile attacks operation against the US bases.
When I made sure that has happened, I really wished I had died and wouldn’t see that happening, he noted.
“We sacrificed our lives for the people for a lifetime, and today we trade our reputation with God Almighty by appearing in front of the cameras to give explanations under such difficult circumstances.”
Hajizadeh said the situation was highly sensitive and critical at that night, following the IRGC’s missile attacks on the US bases, and Iran had even received reports of cruise missiles fired by the US against Iranian positions.
He said the operator had mistaken the passenger plane with a cruise missile, and took down the passenger plane after he failed to contact his commanders.
What follows is the full text of his remarks at the press conference:
I heard about the heart-breaking crash of the Ukrainian Airline’s passenger plane when I was in the country’s west following the missile attacks operation against the US bases. When I made sure that has happened, I really wished I had died and wouldn’t see that happening. We sacrificed our lives for the people for a lifetime, and today we trade our reputation with God Almighty by appearing in front of the cameras to explain under such difficult circumstances. At the beginning of my remarks, I should say that higher-ranking bodies and the Judiciary will investigate and probe into the incident, and the information will be completed. I should say here that we accept full responsibility for the action, and will obey any decision our officials would make.
This was what I wanted to tell you first. But regarding the details of the incident, I should say; well, you know the region’s conditions remained tense and the risk of conflict was high for over a week. It was really unprecedented compared to what we saw in previous years, even since the 1979 Revolution. The risk of conflict was very high; both the Americans and the Iranian Armed Forces were on highest alert. The Americans had also threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.
Therefore, all the offensive and defensive units were on high alert. Well, the [air defence] systems deployed in Tehran as well as the Tehran Air Defence were in the same situation. What we know from our investigations and from what our friends explained is that, well, at that night, for example from [Tuesday] evening, the level of preparedness was at wartime conditions; the highest alert level communicated by the integrated air defence to all systems. Under such circumstances, a number of air defence systems was added to Tehran’s air defence ring. The first system – which was behind the incident – was deployed in Bidganeh in western Tehran.
At several stages, the Alert Level 3, which is the highest level, is communicated and emphasized to the entire network. So all air defence systems were at highest alert level. For several times, these systems including the one involved in the incident were notified by the integrated network that cruise missiles have been fired at the country. For a couple of times, they receive reports that ‘the cruise missiles are coming, be prepared’.
So you see the systems were at the highest alert level, where you should just press a button. They had been told cruise missiles were coming, and the air defence unit engaged in this incident and fired a missile. Now we have arranged an interview with this operator, which will be released soon as part of the plan to publicize the issue. He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’ At the Alert Level 3, this is normal; such requests are made; well our dear brothers didn’t follow up the issue for certain considerations. So the planes fly despite the wartime situation.
In those moments when the incident happens, this air defence unit realizes that there is a target – which it identified as a cruise missile – at a distance of 19 kilometres. Now I’m explaining it on the map. This is the place where the air defence unit is deployed … here is the city of Tehran … This is the air defence unit deployed here at 00:00 (Wednesday), and was prepared. And here’s the Imam Khomeini Airport. This plane takes off from here and takes this direction. It means this is the impact point. Given the information sent to this operator – that it is a wartime situation and a cruise missile has been fired – this poor guy identifies it as a cruise missile.
Well at such a situation, he was obliged to contact, get approval. This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic. For that reason, he fails to contact [his commanders]. He had 10 seconds to decide; he could hit or not hit [the target]. Under such circumstances, he decides to make that bad decision; he engages, the missile is fired, and the plane is hit at this place. Then it returns through this track, and here’s the point where it hits the ground. I must explain some points here.
Before the announcement of the Armed Forces, the country’s Aviation Organization strongly defended [its stance] and insisted no missile had hit the plane, and that the issue was under investigation. I should firstly say they were acting based on their own knowledge; they weren’t aware of this incident. I should clarify when I was informed of the incident on Wednesday morning, I immediately reported it to the country’s officials. They [in turn] told me ‘we have hit a target’.
But this symmetry made me suspicious. I was at the country’s west; I immediately headed towards Tehran. Halfway through, I called officials and told them, ‘This has happened; I think we have most likely hit our own plane’. Upon arrival in Tehran, I found that the General Staff of the Armed Forces has formed an investigation team, and has totally quarantined the team and all those involved in the issue. So we weren’t allowed to say anything to anyone. We had broken the news [to the officials], but investigation had to be carried out. It took a few days to publicize the news, but that wasn’t because anyone wanted to hide the truth; rather, this is the normal procedure; the General Staff must probe into the issue.
Well, they did it. It was Friday morning when almost all the information had been gathered and it was clear what had really happened. Well, some have made mistakes in this case; things have happened, and after that, the General Staff has publicized the issue. Look, I repeat myself; I informed the officials in the first hour I received the news; from that time on, it was up to the General Staff – which said must probe into and assess the issue. They really did it quickly, and carried out the investigation in 48 hours.
Our dear brothers at the Aviation Organization categorically rejected the possibility of a missile hitting the plane; they acted based on what they knew. I must say they were not guilty and have nothing to do with this. All the blame is on us; they’re innocent. The plane was also on its track, it made no mistake. It did the right thing, as did the Aviation Organization. Everyone did the right thing. Only one of our forces made a mistake. Since he is under our command, we are responsible for that. We must be accountable.
Following the investigations, our friends [at General Staff] publicized the issue; but the Aviation Organization, based on its own experience – after all, they are not military – argued that if a missile hits a plane, it must explode up in the air. Well they said the plane has not been destroyed; it has turned around and wanted to land. Look, since the plane has been hit at a low altitude by a short-range missile with a small warhead and proximity fuze, it has exploded at the proximity [of the aircraft]; so the plane has found the chance to fly for a while; it hasn’t exploded in the air. After hitting the ground, it has collapsed.
So no one at the Aviation Organization knew about it, and I should defend my dear brothers there. This was what really happened; so neither the Armed Forces nor the IRGC wanted to hide the truth. But there was a procedure, which is over now. We’re sorry for the incident. We share the grief with the families of our martyrs, and empathize with them. We have lost our dear ones, and are sorry. These are after all the price of the mischief, tensions, and measures of the US in the region. At that night, we were totally prepared for a full-fledged war. I was in the country’s West and was expecting a war at any time. Because there were numerous planes flying over the region; warplanes, some bombers they had brought into the region. We had the possibility of a cruise missile launch and entry of those warplanes. We had prepared ourselves for an all-out war. Well unfortunately here a great disaster has happened due to a hasty decision made by an individual.
[Asked about the authority that refused to grant no-fly zone permission] Look, I don’t want to pin the blame on anyone here. We’re just giving the details [of an incident]. The relevant authorities must investigate; they will investigate and clarify these issues. I believe under war conditions the relevant authorities must have done that [establish no-fly zone] but it didn’t happen anyway.
No look, the problem was not with the Aviation Organization. They weren’t asked to [restrict the flights]. The blame is on the Armed Forces. So whatever mistake and error made and any problem must be blamed on the Armed Forces. There was no fault on the part of the state sector and the Airports Company. They did nothing wrong. Others were responsible in this regard. They must have controlled and commanded the situation; as at that night I was commanding and controlling our missile attacks in the country’s West; similar in this sector, other brothers were in charge, and they must have controlled it.