T. touching down.
Whatever the true nature of the Iranian government's intentions, such things are rarely defined as an act of war. So, tragic as it may be, and it certainly is for the passengers and their families, the downing of that passenger jet yesterday, whether by attack or by accident –however you want to define it– will probably not result in US military retaliation. That's not just my two cents on the situation. Look at this list of airliner shootdown incidents I found on Wikipedia:
First, no one will ever prove it was anything but an accident. So maybe censure, maybe some civil suits –expect the usual legal marathon that follows any international aviation disaster– but there will be no physical, eye for an eye, retaliation. Personally, given the times we live in, I think that's the prudent decision. We're already fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan –the world is universally crazy. Do either we or the Iranians really want to start another hell storm in the Persian Gulf?
Well, maybe, but–
You guys are all a little younger than me, but a similar thing happened in 1973 when a Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 was intercepted and shot down by two Israeli F-4 Phantom IIs. The airliner accidentally entered Israeli-controlled airspace over the Sinai Peninsula.
You'd think once identified as a passenger plane, the Israeli Defense Force command would have called off the possibility of an attack, but not only did the fighter pilots have visual confirmation of the target (they knew what they were looking at), they actually made eye contact with the crew of the Airliner. But do you think that gave anyone cause for hesitation? Yeah, no, of course not. We pay these guys to take orders and be warriors. The thinking on the ground has got to be:
'Who knows, the target might look like a passenger aircraft but it could also possibly be retrofitted with nukes or spyware or something.'
So, you gotta shoot it out of the sky. And it's not like civilian airliners can simply hang a five-inch sign on the back window that reads 'No Nukes' or 'Baby on Board' and deter tailgating by fighter jets.
Condemnation was virtually universal, but otherwise neither the Libyans, the US nor the United Nations executed any meaningful act of retribution against Israel.
And it wasn't the first time the Israelis opted for a kill first question later policy. Consider the 1967 attempt to sink American naval ship, USS Liberty, also by Israeli jet fighter planes (and motor torpedo boats). In that instance, 34 US crew members were killed and 171 others wounded.
You'd think the United States had real cause to reciprocate with deadly force in the case of the USS Liberty. But in the end, the CIA concluded that the attack was not made in malice, but that it was a real mistake, representing gross negligence. And of course the Israel Defense Force reached a similar conclusion.
And all of us are old enough to remember when a Korean Air Lines plane, Flight 007, was shot down by Soviet jet interceptors. Back in 1983 the soviet fighter pilot in that case also had visual confirmation that the aircraft was a passenger jet, and yet he fired anyways. Flight 007 spiraled down, all 269 passengers and crew conscious of their impending death for at least eight minutes before crashing into the Sea of Japan. 62 of the casualties were Americans, one of which was a US congressman, Larry McDonald.
President Ronald Reagan condemned the downing of the airplane as a an "act of barbarism" but otherwise stopped short of calling it an act of war, so, no, we didn't use that opportunity to forcibly extract a pound of flesh from the soviets.
The United States isn't immune from such 'accidents' either:
Five years after the soviets downed KAL 007, USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger jet that it had mistaken for a hostile Iranian fighter aircraft. (You can read about it here: Iran Air Shot Down).
The U.S. Navy's final report blamed "crew error caused by psychological stress on men in combat". But do you think that makes the families of those that perished on Flight 655 feel any better knowing they died as the result of someone else's 'stress'?
You'd think maybe that at least the U.S. Navy Captain (Will C. Rogers III) that ordered the USS Vincennes shoot down an Iranian passenger jet would end up spending the rest of his life in military prison somewhere, but no. Rogers became a military instructor before retiring in 1991.
The rest of the Vincennes crew received combat-action ribbons, while the air warfare coordinator on board, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Lustig, received a commendation medal for his ability to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure".
Personally, as much as I feel for the victims, I also feel for the crewmen of the Vincennes. That ship was in service to the nation for 24 years, and do you think anyone remembers anything about that ship except for the fact that it played a role in an aircraft accident?
Hey shit happens, and this kind of shit gets quietly resolved in the courts. Everyday you've got front page news, but 99% of it gets relegated to the dust bins of wiki history.