Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So I guess the following would be by definition evidence of NOT 'a slow news day'–

Siraj, in light of everything you said about certain sectors leveraging the 7/27 tragedy for their own ends, gets me thinking you could be right.



Special Correspondent to the New York Times
October 10, 2006, 6:49PM Eastern

An Iranian Naval warship in the Persian Gulf shot down a U.S. passenger plane earlier today that the Iranian Forces said was mistaken for an American jet fighter, resulting in the deaths of all 283 people on board.

Islamic Republic Navy Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said the vessel, the newly built Joshan P225 FAC(M), while seeking to protect itself from what was thought on the basis of radar readings to be a hostile F-18 jet fighter, downed the plane with a Fast Attack Craft missile.

The Joshan is thought to have a speed of over 45 sea knots and capable of using various missiles and rockets that can hit air and sea targets with a range beyond 100 km [60 miles].

The downing of the jetliner, a US Boeing 777, took place at the southern end of the Gulf, over the Strait of Hormuz, while gunboats from U.S. Fifth Fleet are said to have been engaging the Joshan.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a statement issued from the Iranian capital of Tehran, and Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, in a news briefing, both said the Islamic Republic regretted the loss of life on the airliner, Delta Flight 7488, which was engaged in its final descent from Atlanta to Dubai.

Asked whether Islamic Republic Army Navy Force had perhaps intentionally shot down the American aircraft as a response to the stationing of the US army's fifth base in Bahrain and U.S. proximity to Iran's Asalouyeh facilities and Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Sayyari said necessary arrangements have been made, and that the accidental downing of the airliner had nothing to do with current conflicts.

"Certainly, we have tactical options and have taken necessary precautions to protect our facilities and interests in any region of the Persian Gulf. It is not important for us where enemy base is located. We have necessary readiness to counter any threat, "said the admiral.

Both Ahmadinejad and Sayyari defended the judgment of the warship's skipper, saying that the first responsibility of a Navy vessel's commander was to protect his ship and crew. But Sayyari accepted a comparison with the episode on July 4, 1988, in which a US Missile cruiser downed an Iranian passenger jet over the same waters, also killing all on board. He said the main similarity between the two accidents was that the U.S. plane "was also in a war zone when combat in progress" when it was shot down.

Collected members of the US Republican party condemned the attack in a prepared statement from the steps of the capital and vowed to "avenge the lives of our American fallen." As this article goes to press, President Bush is said to be returning from a vacation at his ranch in Texas, and will address the nation later this evening.

Meanwhile diplomatic officials throughout the Gulf and South East Asia are already beginning to speak of the possibility of using alliances newly solidified since the 7/27 attacks on the region to all but close off the Persian Gulf to U.S. warships. As improbable as that may sound now, given past reliance by regional powers on US naval resources to keep shipping lanes open, negotiating the evacuation of U.S. military increasingly appears to be a real and possible outcome.

At a news conference today, Sayyari gave this account of confrontation with the airliner:

At about 6:21 P.M. in the gulf (10:21 A.M., Eastern daylight time), American gunboats fired on the Joshan. The ship turned to engage the gunboats and, in response, the gunboats sped toward the Joshan as if to fire.

At 6:58 P.M., the Joshan and another Iranian vessel opened fire on the gunboats with five-inch guns, apparently damaging two.

At 7:03 P.M., while the Joshan was engaged with the gunboats, a combat information center detected an aircraft over Iranian airspace. The plane, later identified as Delta Flight 7488 was a civilian airliner bound for Dubai, making its final descent over the southern gulf.

"The aircraft headed directly for Joshan on a constant bearing at high speed, approximately 450 knots," the admiral said. "A warning was sent on both military and civilian distress signals beginning at 7:03 P.M.. This procedure was repeated several times, but the aircraft neither answered nor changed its course."

As the aircraft continued, the crew members monitoring it aboard the Joshan noted that it began to drop in altitude and to increase its speed. The airliner was again warned at 7:07 P.M. that it was approaching an Iranian warship. Altogether, rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, the American plane was warned three times on the civilian distress channel and four times on the military channel. Those are international frequencies that all aircraft are supposed to monitor.

"The aircraft was declared hostile at 7:07 P.M.," Sayyari said. "At 7:10 P.M., the Joshan fired upon the aircraft, and successfully intercepted the target."

Iranian press agencies report the plane was hit at 3,500 feet and that it crashed into the sea. Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said the crash site was inside Iranian territorial waters and that American ships had not gone there to assist in search-and-rescue efforts.

In defending the action, the Admiral said from the outset Iran emphatically told the United States "that committing American military units to the Persian Gulf mission would involve risks and uncertainties."

"A decision was made early in the commitment to give our commanders sufficient latitude to protect their people and equipment when hostile intent was manifested," he said. "They do not have to be shot at before responding."