An officer of the Revolutionary Guards tried to reach the command center for instructions when he spotted what he thought was an unidentified aircraft near the airport in Tehran. He couldn’t get through, leaving him seconds to make the decision himself. So the officer, on the military’s highest alert for an American attack, fired two antiaircraft missiles—bringing down a Ukrainian airliner and killing 176 people. The military cover-up began almost immediately, the New York Times reports. President Hassan Rouhani was kept in the dark as the government denied shooting the airliner down. It was a three full days before the government admitted the attack.
The Guards’ Aerospace Force had asked the government to close Iran’s airspace as it prepared for a US response to its planned counterattack after a drone strike killed an Iranian general. But the government worried that would cause panic among civilians that the nation was about to go to war with the US, per the Times. Officials also thought civilian planes in the air might keep the US from attacking the airport or a nearby base. The rationale for covering up the truth included fear of renewed protests against the government, and public pressure did contribute to the government’s admission. The families of Iranians killed on the plane wanted answers. One critic said the government had done more than lie. “There was a systematic cover-up at the highest levels that makes it impossible to get out of this crisis,” he said. (Read more Iran stories.)