President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike for the killing of general Qassem Soleimani on January 3 near Baghdad international airport, triggering hate between the US and Iran, but in the aftermath, the US has struggled to explain and justify why it had the infamous leader was killed.
Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, was killed in the early morning on Friday, January 3 in Baghdad, Iraq.
The strike sparked rage in Iraq against the US and led the Iranians to retaliate with a missile attack on the US and coalition forces, and as tensions skyrocketed, a Ukrainian passenger jet was shot down, killing all 176 people on board.
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief at home.
The interception by the US
Iranian officials on Friday slammed the interception of an Iranian passenger plane by a US fighter jet in the skies over Syria as “illegal,” threatening action against Washington over the incident.
Iran had said that one of its airliners, flying from Tehran to Beirut on Thursday, was “harassed” by fighter jets, but later landed safely in Lebanon. A U.S. official confirmed a U.S. jet had passed by the Iranian airliner, but at a safe distance.
According to Iranian state TV, two fighter jets came within a distance of 100 meters (328 feet) of the Iranian Airbus A310. The pilot of Mahan Air Flight 1152 quickly took the aircraft to a lower altitude to avoid a collision, the report said. The sharp maneuver caused slight injuries among some of the passengers.
However, U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman, told The Associated Press that a U.S. F-15 fighter jet “conducted a standard visual inspection” of the Iranian plane “at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from the airliner.”
He said the inspection was meant to ensure the safety of U.S. coalition troops in al-Tanf in Syria as the plane was flying over that area. He said once the aircraft was identified as a passenger plane, “the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.”
Aircraft at that altitude is to maintain a distance of at least 600 meters (2,000 feet) to ensure they don’t hit each other, though planes traveling that close can encounter wake turbulence.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Friday that what happened was an act of “lawlessness upon lawlessness.”
Zarif tweeted: “The U.S. illegally occupies the territory of another State and then harasses a scheduled civil airliner—endangering innocent civilian passengers—ostensibly to protect its occupation forces.”
Iran’s Transportation Minister Mohammad Eslami described the incident as a “terrorist act” and said Tehran would complain to the International Civil Aviation Organization. “We expect this to lead to condemnation of the terrorist act by the U.S. government,” Eslami said.
The ICAO said Friday it had not yet received a complaint from Iran.
In the time since, there have been several incidents across the Mideast between the two countries, including the U.S. airstrike that killed an Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran launching ballistic missiles that targeted American forces in Iraq.
Moving of mock-up carrier
Iran has moved a mock-up US aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, satellite images show, suggesting it will use the look-alike vessel for target practice in war games in a Gulf shipping channel vital to world oil exports.
The use of dummy American warships has become an occasional feature of training by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its naval forces, including in 2015 when Iranian missiles hit a mock-up resembling a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
Tehran, which opposes the presence of US and Western navies in the Gulf, frequently holds naval war games in the strategic Strait, the conduit for some 30% of all crude and other oil liquids traded by sea.
One of the images taken on July 26 by US-based space technology firm Maxar Technologies showed an Iranian fast attack boat moving toward the model US carrier in the strategic waterway. Another image showed model planes lined up on the deck of the fake carrier.
“We cannot speak to what Iran hopes to gain by building this mock-up, or what tactical value they would hope to gain by using such a mock-up in a training or offensive exercise scenario,” said Commander Rebecca Rebarich, the spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet.
“We remain confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat.”
Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States since 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have sharply dropped Tehran’s oil exports.
Iran’s Guards in April said Tehran would destroy US warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf. Iranian officials have repeatedly threatened to block Hormuz if Iran is not able to export oil or if its nuclear sites are attacked.
There have been periodic confrontations between the Iranian Guards and the US military in the Gulf in recent years. US officials have said closing the Strait would be crossing a “red line” and America would take action to reopen it.
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