Various reports say warplanes deployed by the so-called United States-led coalition operating illegally in Syria have conducted some aggressive and “dangerous” maneuvering close to a Beirut-bound Iranian passenger airplane.
The incident took place on Thursday involving two warplanes and Mahan Air’s Flight 1152 that had taken off from Tehran and was en route to the Lebanese capital, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) News, the Iranian national broadcaster’s news outlet, reported, citing Syria’s civil aviation authority.
The authority specified the airspace over Syria’s hugely-strategic al-Tanf region as the place where the incident had happened.
The aviation body, however, refused to acknowledge any stopover by the Iranian aircraft as a result of the harassment, saying the plane continued en route to its destination notwithstanding.
In response, the US Central Command said a single F-15 had made a “visual inspection” of the Iranian airliner “in accordance with international standards… to ensure the safety of coalition personnel” at the military base in al-Tanf.
The command added that the US F-15 was on a “routine air mission” in Syria and conducted “a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters”.
“Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.”
Forgoing any permission from Damascus, the US-led coalition has been operating in the Arab country since 2014 under the pretext of fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. The US-led countries, however, retain the presence, although, Syria and its allies, Iran and Russia, defeated the Takfiris in late 2017.
The coalition maintains a controversial base in al-Tanf that is of paramount strategic importance due to its hosting the interjection of Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi borders. Various reports have blamed the US-led forces for training anti-Damascus terrorists there.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) confirmed that the military aircraft had taken off from the al-Tanf base. It added that the warplanes were believed to belong to the US-led military coalition.
The IRIB News described the US aircraft’s maneuvering as a “provocative and dangerous” action that forced the Iranian passenger plane’s pilot to precipitously lower the altitude.
It hailed the swift precaution taken by the pilot as “courageous” but said it led to some injuries among several passengers.
The official IRNA news agency also cited the Iranian pilot as identifying the jets as two US warplanes.
Several passengers said their heads hit hard against the ceiling after the plane had to swoop lower. Footage, meanwhile, showed blood running from the top of the head of one and several others, who had suffered scars, while one passenger was seen lying down apparently unconscious on the airplane’s floor.
“It was a fighter plane. It was flying precisely side by side this plane,” one said. Another showed the arm of his seat that had been broken off after the airliner took the tumble.
Another video showed an unidentified warplane being flown away at breakneck speed over the Syrian airspace after the incident.
There were many minors among the passengers. According to the IRIB News, some crewmembers also suffered light injuries.
Reuters, meanwhile, cited an unknown “airport source” as saying that the Iranian plane had landed “safely” in Beirut despite the incident.
In a statement early on Friday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, “The incident is under investigation. Due political and legal measures will be taken upon completion of the information at hand.”
He, however, said Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi had asserted to the world body’s Secretary-General Antonio Guteres that the Islamic Republic would be holding the United States “responsible” should anything happen to the Iranian airliner on its way back home.
Mousavi said the warning message has also been forwarded to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran that hosts the US’s interests section.
Earlier reports had specified the aggressive aircraft as Israeli.
Back in 2018, Syrian air defenses mistakenly downed a Russian aircraft after Israeli fighter jets hid themselves behind it to use it as their cover. The crash led to the death of 15 Russian servicemen.
Simultaneously with Syria, the United States started leading a similar controversial “anti-Daesh” operation in Iraq.
On January 3, the US martyred Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), in an airstrike targeting Baghdad. The assault also assassinated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) counter-terrorism force, and a number of their companions.
The strike came while General Soleimani was on an official visit to the Iraqi capital.
Both commanders were extremely popular because of the key role they played in eliminating the US-sponsored Daesh terrorist group in the region, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
Shortly after the atrocity, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei warned about a pending “harsh revenge.”
The IRGC fired volleys of ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq on January 8. According to the US Defense Department, more than 100 American forces suffered “traumatic brain injuries” during the counterstrikes. The Corps, however, says Washington uses the term to mask the number of the Americans who perished during the retaliation.
On Wednesday, Ayatollah Khamenei cautioned while receiving visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Tehran that Iran would never forget Washington’s assassination of General Soleimani and definitely deliver a “counterblow” to the United States over the atrocity.