By Claude Salhani
By refusing to release the black boxes of the Ukrainian passenger aircraft shot down by its missiles, Iran is committing yet another mistake. Worse, it is committing an outrageous humanitarian offence.
In their refusal to hand over the voice and data recorders from the aircraft to countries possessing technology to decipher the flight data, Iranian authorities prolong the suffering of the families of the ill-fated civilian aircraft. There were no survivors among the 176 passengers and crew.
Iran initially said it would hand over the boxes because it does not possess the technology to retrieve data from them.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the boxes be handed to France but Iran has made no move to follow up. Information on the black boxes could help families of the victims of the downed aircraft learn more about why the plane was fired upon.
Many of the passengers were Canadians of Iranian origin, holding both Canadian and Iranian citizenship. Iran, however, does not recognise dual citizenship.
Tehran, embroiled in a long-running dispute with the United States over its nuclear programme, has given mixed signals about whether it would hand over the recorders. An Iranian aviation official had said the black boxes would be sent to Ukraine only to backtrack a day later, saying they would be analysed in Iran.
Further delay in sending them abroad is likely to increase international pressure on Iran, whose military said it shot the plane down by mistake while on high alert in the tense hours after Iran fired missiles at US targets in Iraq.
“If the appropriate supplies and equipment are provided, the information can be taken out and reconstructed in a short period of time,” the Iran Civil Aviation Organisation said in its second preliminary report on the disaster.
Even discounting human compassion, any person with an ounce of logic would be tempted to ask why Iran is doing this. Why is it so reluctant to help with closure to this tragedy? A terrible mistake was made. Why not help clear it up?
The answer is simple. This is a terrible embarrassment for the Iranian leadership. It is all the more embarrassing coming while Iran is trying to show it is a country that is advanced militarily.
Shooting down a passenger plane speaks otherwise and opens questions as to how professional and well-trained Iranian officers with fingers on the trigger of the powerful weapons possessed by Tehran are.
Today, the mistake was made with a missile. Could the same mistake be made with a nuclear weapon, if Iran weaponises nuclear energy? This apparent mistake begs the question as to how stable is the country’s military arsenal if an individual can decide to shoot down a civilian aircraft.
Did whoever decided to fire the two missiles have the authority to do so or was the request sent up through the chain of command? Worrisome conclusions spring to mind either way.
How secure would nuclear-armed missiles be under the current regime? Were those missiles under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or the politically distrusted regular military?
Surely there is a cloud of fear among the Iranian leadership about what the data from the black boxes might show.
Is it fear that information would reveal the ineptitude of the IRGC, which cannot distinguish between an airliner of a scheduled flight, a US F-35 jet fighter, a missile or a bird? Does Tehran fear that myths that had surrounded the IRGC were exposed the minute the Ukrainian plane and its passengers were shot down?
Despite the billions of dollars training and equipping them, the guards could not perform better than blind sentries shooting in the dark. It is not Ayatollah Ali Khameini’s inappropriate words of praise on January 17 that can whitewash the bloodstained hands of the IRGC or restore a modicum of the artificially constructed illusions around them.
Iranian demonstrators have rendered their verdict. The IRGC and the clerics: Out! They are part of an obsolete past that must go.
The killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani awakened the Iranian leadership to a new reality. They realise how outperformed they are by US drone and satellite technology. They realise that their claims about technological and military prowess are bluster. Admitting their technological inferiority on top of their lost ethical compass is too heart-wrenching for the Tehran regime to endure.
Iranian clerics and the military establishment that back them might have lost more than a battle. Their compounded ineptitude and ignorance of the ways of the world indicate they might have lost the whole war.