Only two days before he admitted it was indeed forces under his command that launched the missiles that downed Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 and killed all 176 passengers and crew, Ali Hajizadeh, the shamed commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division, struck a rather different tone.
There he was on television on Thursday, the flags of Iran’s various Arab and South Asian proxy militias behind him, boasting about how such armed groups would take up the campaign of confronting America and its allies in the Middle East following the ballistic missile attacks that struck two United States bases in Iraq. “Future acts should be carried out by the resistance groups in the region, he said.
On Saturday, Hajizadeh was quite a bit more subdued. “I wished I was dead. If only I had died,” he said.
He disclosed that “communications” failures had led to the downing of the Ukrainian passenger jet at the hands of a nervous Revolutionary Guard team. They apparently mistook the lumbering Boeing 737 heading out of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on a routine flight for an incoming American missile.
The first thing that he and the rest of the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard could do is quickly offer up their resignations. Next, to partly make up for their grave errors, they can make public statements against the dangerous militarism that has increasingly become a driving force of Iranian politics and policy. That’s what ultimately led to the tragic and entirely unforgivable shooting down of the Ukrainian jet on 8 January.
One lesson of Flight 752 is that our cities, our skies, and our seas are too crowded for armed conflict. It is no longer the 19th century. There’s simply no space for the aspirations of the belligerent, noisy bullies who dominate our world. In Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and elsewhere it’s ordinary civilians who bear the brunt of the chauvinistic and mostly right-wing thugs who run our planet and jostle with each other for power and advantage.
Civilians like the 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, as well as nationals of the UK, Sweden, Afghanistan, and Germany on board the plane, attempting to go about their ordinary lives. They were needlessly killed after visits to and from relatives, or on business trips.
Among the lives cut short were those of newlyweds Saeed Tahmasebi, an engineering doctoral candidate at Imperial College London, and his wife Niloofar. Many of the victims were leading promising yet quiet lives that contrast with the empty bombast of their political leaders. Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gourji, 25, had married a week earlier and were on their way back to Canada to resume their studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
After Hamed Esmaeilion, a resident of Ontario, lost his wife Parisa and daughter Reera in the crash; he had to inform his daughter’s teachers.
“I called her school today and said Reera will be absent forever,” my colleague Negar Mortazavi quoted him as saying.
Roja Azadian boarded the flight, while her husband Mohsen Ahmadipour was told his ticket was no longer valid, so was in the terminal when he found out his wife was dead, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
Sheyda Shadkhoo, was in Tehran visiting relatives, and heading back to Toronto when she called her husband 20 minutes before the flight, nervous about the possibility of an armed conflict between Iran and the United States over the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the former Revolutionary Guard commander.
“She wanted me to assure her that there wasn’t going to be a war,” her husband, Hassan, told CNN. “I told her not to worry. Nothing’s gonna happen.”
There’s nothing that Hajizadeh, or Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, can do to bring back Sheyda, or any of the others killed as a result of their recklessness, as well as that of their adversaries.
But they can at least honour the memory of the dead and demonstrate some measure of atonement by calling for immediate, unconditional talks with their adversaries to de-escalate, instead of launching a clandestine campaign of revenge that will inevitably cost more innocent lives.