December 21, 2020 | Policy Brief

Canadian Report Underscores Iran’s Culpability in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner

December 21, 2020 | Policy Brief

Canadian Report Underscores Iran’s Culpability in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner

Last week, Ralph Goodale, special advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released a comprehensive report detailing the significant flaws in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s investigation into its downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. The report is an important step in holding Iran accountable for its actions and clarifying what happened on that fateful day.

On January 8, 2020, an operator with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired two surface-to-air missiles from a Russian-made Tor-M1 system at Flight PS752 as the civilian plane departed Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. All 176 passengers and crew members, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, were killed.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency, outlines aircraft incident investigation requirements in Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. It requires the Islamic Republic to lead the investigation, since it is the state in which the incident occurred.

Yet 11 months later, Iran “has not conducted its investigations (safety, criminal or otherwise) in a truly independent, objective and transparent manner,” Goodale determined. “The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret.”

In its own preliminary report released in July, Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) concocted an elaborate chain of human and technical errors that it says led the operator to misidentify and fire on the civilian aircraft.

Goodale rightly questions Iran’s assertions that IRGC personnel failed to notice the missile battery’s alleged misalignment by an “enormous directional error of 107 degrees.” Goodale also challenged Tehran’s claim that it had experienced a total communications failure with the command center and “mistook a [130-foot] long commercial passenger jet taking off and ascending from east to west for some sort of threatening aircraft or missile coming in from west to east.”

The Canadian report lists integral questions Iranian authorities left unanswered, including why Iran’s civilian airspace remained open during active missile launches against U.S. military personnel in Iraq. In July, Iran’s then-lead investigator, Hassan Rezaeifar, was recorded suggesting the airspace remained open to conceal these attacks and to continue collecting profitable overflight fees.

“Iran bears a heavy burden of responsibility to be completely comprehensive and transparent in substantiating its explanations with credible, compelling evidence, which has not yet been forthcoming,” the report stated. Despite Iran’s claims to the contrary, evidence suggests intentional harm as well as “incompetence, recklessness and wanton disregard for innocent human life.”

If the past is any indication, the Islamic Republic’s forthcoming final incident report, due before January 8, 2021, will be similarly incomplete and flawed – and should not satisfy ICAO’s requirements.

The Canadian report states the government will “pursue transparency, accountability and justice” through “all relevant international forums.”

President-elect Joe Biden should provide his critical support for Canada and Ukraine to pursue legal options, such as initiating negotiation and arbitration proceedings under the Montreal Convention of 1971. This multilateral treaty, of which Canada, Ukraine, Iran, and the United States are parties, determines criminal liability and compensation in incidents of violence against civilian aircraft.

Working with Canada and Ukraine, the incoming administration can help ensure accountability for the regime in Tehran, helping to bring a measure of justice to the families of those killed on PS752.

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Dylan Gresik is a government relations analyst. They both contribute to FDD’s Iran Program. For more analysis from Toby, Dylan, and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Toby and Dylan on Twitter @tobydersh and @DylanGresik. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a non-partisan think tank focused on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network