Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down on the morning of January 8. Three days later, on January 11, Iran’s General Staff of the Armed Forces announced the plane had been hit by a missile due to "human error”.
Evidence presented over the last year leaves no doubt that the leaders of the Islamic Republic knew from the very beginning what had happened, but for three days they lied repeatedly, and then told new lies to justify the previous lies. Although these lies and cover-ups have continued to this day, the tone, number and nature of the false statements given by officials during those first three days are astonishing.
On Saturday, January 11, 2020, when the Revolutionary Guards finally admitted to having shot down the plane after three days, people expected the lies to end. Today the world knows that the announcement given by the General Staff and the televised explanations from the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force were riddled with lies. The television broadcast to explain the incident to the public was called "Press Conference,” a lie in itself.
There are likely several reasons why the Islamic Republic, after three days of secrecy, was forced to change its strategy and present a different narrative. The content shared on social media was definitely a key factor: numerous documents, articles and documentaries were posted on social media during the three-day delay. They include three key pieces of evidence: photographs revealing a section of a missile warhead next to the wreckage, two short videos that recorded a missile as it moved through the sky, and which registered the moment it hit the plane, as well as videos of bulldozers clearing the crash site.
It followed that three days later, numerous other pieces of evidence were presented that shed more light on the tragedy, but the point is that information that missiles had been fired was raised from the very beginning, and yet Islamic Republic officials not only continued their strategy of lying and covering up, but mocked, denied, and arrogantly dismissed any other possibility.
The following is an overview of the lies the politicians, military officials and leading figures of the Islamic Republic told over that three-day period.
Wednesday, January 8
The plane crashed at 6:19 am. Noor News, which has close links to the Supreme National Security Council, was the first media outlet in Iran to report the plane had crashed, which it did on its Telegram channel. It reported the plane crashed at 6:47.
Ghasem Biniaz, director of the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development's Communication and Information Center, was first to issue denials, about three hours after the crash. In an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), he denied "any rumors about a missile strike" on the plane, saying that the cause of the accident was "a fire in the engine of the plane”.
It now seems strange that three hours after the news of the accident he said: "If the accident was due to a missile strike, the plane would have exploded in the sky." Of course, this lie was later repeated many times by the propaganda apparatus of the Islamic Republic.
The claim that the the plane's engine caught fire was denied on Wednesday afternoon, by Reza Jafarzadeh, the spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization.
Afterward, Abolfazl Shekarchi, senior spokesperson for the Armed Forces, told Fars News Agency: "The rumors about this plane are completely false and no military or political expert confirms this. These are certainly created by hypocrites in favor of the Americans, and it is another conspiracy in the realm of psychological warfare."
That night, the Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mohammad Eslami, blamed a "technical defect" for the crash and told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA): "Foreign media publish rumors about a terrorist attack, explosion, or shooting as the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian plane, which are not true. A technical defect was the cause of the accident."
With increasing speculations about the firing of the missile, Ali Abedzadeh, then head of the Civil Aviation Organization, appeared on IRIB’s Channel 2 news program at 10 pm and said: "It is not technically possible for this plane to have exploded due to a missile fire.” He added that photographs published online showing the remains of a rocket next to the wreckage of the plane were "pure lies”.
He blamed the crash on a fire onboard, a claim that was repeated over and over again for three days by other officials: "The plane crashed while heading north; but fell while moving toward the southeast. This indicates that the plane was returning to the airport [because of the fire]."
Revolutionary Guards commanders — specifically Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force, and Hossein Salami, the commander-in-chief of the Guards — later said they had "guessed" on Wednesday morning that the Iranian defense system had shot down the plane and that by Wednesday evening they were sure of it.
But Ali Abedzadeh stated on TV: "There is complete coordination between all military and civilian units in Iran" and said: "It is impossible for the defense system to shoot down an aircraft 8,000 feet in the air.”
Also on Wednesday, officials linked the plane crash to a (false) claim about Boeing's troubled financial situation. Ali Abedzadeh put forth this theory on the same TV show.
Thursday, January 9
On Thursday morning, news broke that a team of experts had arrived from Ukraine, and about several comments made by Ukrainian officials. The first came from the Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine: "The first hypothesis for us is that the plane crashed after being hit by a Russian Tor missile."
But on Thursday afternoon, an Islamic Republic official said that the missile strike theory had been officially debunked. "The theory of the crash of the Ukrainian plane being due to a missile strike or actions taken by our defense system was investigated in a special meeting and was proved untrue," Hassan Rezaeifar, then head of the Civil Aviation Authority's accident investigation committee, told IRNA. "The country's defense system plans are coordinated with the flight network, and there was no inconsistency."
"No missile parts were found at the scene of the accident,” and any claim to the contrary "was a lie,” he said.
In the hours that followed, a video of the missile being launched was posted on social media, and Reuters quoted a United States official as saying that satellites had tracked two missiles being fired.
The Reuters report cost the Islamic Republic officials dearly, and a few hours later, a government spokesman issued a statement rejecting it.
At the height of the denials and lies, at least one official threatened journalists. On Thursday evening, Hesamoddin Ashena, an adviser to the Iranian president, warned Iranian journalists to refrain from reporting on the tragedy, describing such coverage as a "psychological war”.
That night, Ali Abedzadeh went on television again and categorically denied that the plane had been hit by missiles.
Friday, January 10
Ali Rabiei, spokesperson for the government, issued a statement in the early hours of Friday morning: "Today, in a calculated and common tactic of psychological war, a Pentagon source, whose name has not been revealed, was quoted as saying two missiles were shot at the Ukrainian plane and these remarks have been widely reflected in the media. In the future, when it emerges that this false claim is untrue, no one will take responsibility for this big lie."
Apart from this, on Friday, officials were relatively quiet, though denials in the media continued. For example, outlets close to the Revolutionary Guards and the state-run IRNA rejected a report by a CBS reporter who said that the area where the plane crashed had been completely cleared.
There were also reports of a "presidential order to convene an urgent meeting of the Supreme National Security Council," but there was no elaboration on this news.
Saturday, January 11
Finally, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Iran published a statement.
The announcement was made shortly before 7am on Saturday. The headquarters admitted that the plane had been shot down by missiles, but attributed it to "human error”.
To justify the firing of the missile, the statement referred to the specific location of the aircraft when it was shot down, a claim that was later proven to be a lie. The statement said, ”while turning, it was in close proximity to a sensitive Revolutionary Guards’ military base and flying at an altitude” that indicated it was a hostile aircraft. The statement also said the “shape” of the plane also suggested it posed a danger. Therefore, it had been shot down as a suspected hostile plane or weapon.
But immediately after the announcement, the Civil Aviation Authority announced, "No deviation in the flight trajectory of the crashed plane has been proven." The technical report, released six months later, also showed there was not the slightest hint that the hypothesis that the
Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing PS752 had deviated from its original flight path was true. The General Staff of the Armed Forces blatantly lied in its statement.
Hours after the announcement, state TV broadcast a statement by Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guards’ Aerospace Force.
Hajizadeh made several points in his 14-minute speech, some of which later turned out to be false.
He said the unit that fired the missile "detected the aircraft as a cruise missile,” tried to contact its commander, "had a communication system malfunction" that may have been caused by "jamming [by the enemy]."
Explanations given over the following months reveal that the Guards commanders knew from the beginning what had happened, but Hajizadeh proposed the "jamming" hypothesis, which was quoted by the media with close ties to the Guards.
Throughout his speech, Hajizadeh also spoke of "one missile". Today we know at least two missiles were fired at the aircraft, a fact that was confirmed by various authorities, including the Civil Aviation Authority six months later.
Hajizadeh also said the individual or individuals who shot the missiles had "10 seconds to decide" from the time the plane was identified as a cruise missile to the time the missile was fired. This was another piece of disinformation, or at least a misconception. Experts later confirmed that statement to be an error, and an article published in Forbes magazine stated there was a full two minutes between identification and the firing of the missiles.
Listening to Hajizadeh's speech delivered on January 11 and reviewing the text of another official's short statement published six months later, it is clear that the number of lies the Guards Aerospace Force commander told that day were remarkable. Gholamabbas Torki, Tehran's military prosecutor, said on July 30 that the firing of the second missile was “preventable". “After not receiving a response when he asked for permission to fire the first missile, the operator shot the second missile,” Torki said.
Further evidence showed that even the control tower at Mehrabad Airport had been informed by another pilot at the same time that "two lights" had been seen in the sky and "explosions" and "rocket-like" lights were seen in the sky.
The statement given by the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the televised speech of the Commander of the Aerospace Force of the Revolutionary Guards were supposed to break the chain of doubts and speculation. They were supposed to tell the truth. But both were full of lies. And we know that these lies and cover-ups continued. They went on and on as the tragedy unfolded, beyond the three days of uncertainty and into the months that followed, as the full horror of loss and grief and anger became a part of everyday life for so many.