Today a manned US reconnaissance plane entered Iranian airspace in a clear attempt to provoke Iran into shooting it down. Such an incident would have created an occasion for Trump to give the American people a special 4th of July fireworks.
On July 3 1988 the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down the civil Iranian Flight 655 with 290 people on board. The US claimed that the plane’s transponder was signaling an Iranian military identification code, that it was seemingly attacking the Vincennes, that the ship warned the plane 12 times, and that the ship was in international waters when the incident happened.
The crew of the Vincennes received medals for killing the Iranian civilians.
Investigations showed (pdf) that all the above claims were false. The shoot down was intentional. Iran sued the US in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over it. The case was settled in 1996 when the US agreed to apologize and to pay $61.8 million to the families of the victims.
On June 20 a large US reconnaissance drone, accompanied by a manned US military airplane, flew into Iranian air space east of the Strait of Hormuz. Iran shot the drone down. The US threatened to strike Iran over the incident but Trump did not follow through.
There were reports that some people in the White House doubted that the US Central Command, the US military command for the Middle East, told it the full truth about the incident. Two days before the drone incident happened Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director, had unusual talks with the US Central Command. This led to speculations that the incident was designed to provoke Iran into a shoot down and to push Trump into a war on Iran.
The case today is not in doubt. The US military definitely tried to provoke Iran into shooting down another one of its planes.
The US Airforce RC-135V Rivet Joint are signal intelligence planes that snoop on other countries. The plane flew over the islands Abu Musa and Sirri in the Persian Gulf which are Iranian territory and Iranian airspace. It falsely signaled that it was an Iranian plane.
The aviation transponder of the US spy plane was set to a code that is associated with Iran. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defined (pdf) 24-bit addresses that identify the type of the plane and the country where a plane is registered . The 24 bit codes for Iranian registered airplanes begins with the country identifier 0111 0011, written in hexadecimal as 73. The flight radar page that Manu Gomez used displays these ‘S-Mode’ transponder codes the airplane sends as a six digit hexadecimal number.
This use of code that identified the plane as Iranian was not a mistake but absolutely intentional:
There are so many things wrong with what the #USAF is doing here, that are very much not evident to the casual observer.
1) The RC-135 has changed its unique transponder number to 730000 (hex), an Iranian assigned code. So, the USAF is impersonating an Iranian plane. https://t.co/4zx5kdV3ua
— Steffan Watkins (@steffanwatkins) July 3, 2019
Detail of the tweeted screenshot
Sirri Island is the location of an oil platform that was destroyed by the US Navy forces on April 18, 1988. The island has a landing strip and there are several oil and gas installations on it.
Abu Musa is a 12.8 square kilometer (4.9 sq mi) inhabited island near the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. It is, like Sirri, Iranian territory and Iran has troops stationed there. They likely have decent air defense systems. Abu Musa is the Iranian ‘castle’ that controls the Strait and most traffic west of it. Its strategic importance is immense.
After Iran shot down the US drone its foreign minister posted maps showing the flight path of the drone and the demarcation of the Iranian airspace (red line). It is obvious that the US plane today entered it.
This morning the US spy plane willingly penetrated Iranian airspace. It squawked a fake code which showed ill intention. This happened on the 31st anniversary of Flight 655. The Iranian military would certainly still like to take revenge for that mass murder. It was a huge provocation likely intended to lure Iran into shooting it down.
Trump recently threatened to ‘obliterate’ some areas of Iran should it attack “anything American”:
….Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2019
This led to speculation that Trump was threatening a nuclear strike.
Had Iran shot the plane down it would have been clearly within its rights. But imagine it had done so. A manned US reconnaissance plane, not a drone, would have come down and the crew would be dead. US media would scream for revenge.
It would have happened on the eve of Trump’s 4th of July speech which will be followed by the military parade and overflight he ordered. 5,000 people from military families are invited to the event.
An ideal TV situation to announce that the US Commander in Chief ordered a small nuke to be used to ‘obliterate’ Abu Musa island, the castle that controls the Strait of Hormuz. The US public would have loved those 4th of July fireworks. Newpapers would headline “The Commander In Chief Demonstrated His Resolve!” Trump’s approval rating would soar to above 80%.
It would take days until the information that the flight was an intended provocation would enter the news. US media would simply ignore it just as they ignored the evidence about Flight 655. No one in the US would care about it.
One wonders who came up with this nefarious plan. Was it Trump, the great showman, himself? Was that the reason why he ordered the military 4th July parade on such a short notice? Or was it John Bolton or Mike Pompeo? Some minion at the CIA or CentCom?
Whoever came up with it, and those who signed off to allow this incident to happen, will now be disappointed. Iran clearly did not fall into their trap.
The world owns a big thank you to the Iranian air defense crews on Abu Musa for their disciplined behavior.
Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.