به گزارش توکانیوز به نقل از دکتر محمد تقی حسینی سفیر ایران در مکزیک،دوازدهم تیر ماه هر سال یادآور فاجعه عظیم سرنگون کردن هواپیمای مسافربری جمهوری اسلامی ایران بر فراز خلیج فارس است. حادثه غم انگیزی که در ماههای پایانی جنگ رخ داد و هواپیمای مسافربری ایران ایر در مسیر بندر عباس به دبی مود هدف موشک های هدایت شونده ناو هواپیمابر وینسنس متعلق به نیروی دریایی آمریکا قرار گرفت و تمامی ۲۹۰ نفر سرنشین آن در دم جان باختند. این حادثه تاثیر مستقیمی در جنگ ایران و عراق و خاتمه یافتن آن داشت. در طول جنگ حوادث تلخ برای ایران زیاد اتفاق افتاد. حوادثی که چه بسا در آنها تعداد افراد بیشتری جان باختند. اما حادثه سقوط هواپیمای مسافربری از جهات مختلف با همه آنها متفاوت بود. سقوط هواپیمای مسافربری هیچ توجیه نظامی و دفاعی ندارد. به همین دلیل آمریکا تلاش زیادی کرد تا با مسائل دیگری این اقدام خود را توجیه کند. آمریکا ادعا کرد که ساقط کردن هواپیما یک اقدام دفاع از خود بوده است و نیز مدعی شد که هواپیمای مسافربری را با یک هواپیمای جنگنده تام کت F14نیروی هوایی ایران اشتباه گرفته است. گزارش های سازمان های بین المللی و نیز سازمان های ملی آمریکا در این رابطه بیانگر این نکته است که ناو وینسنس قبل از حادثه بطور مکرر هشدارهای خود را برای هواپیمای جنگی ارسال کرده است که در حال مانور و شیرجه به طرف آن بوده است. در حالیکه آنچه در تیر رس آن قرار داشته است یک هواپیمای مسافربری بوده است که نه تنها در وضعیت شیرجه زدن نبود، بلکه در وضعیت خیزبرداشتن و اوج گرفتن برای رسیدن به ارتفاع مورد نظر پروازی خود در کریدور شناخته شده، بوده است. آمریکایی ها پس از حادثه سرنگونی هواپیمای مسافربری ایران، به پایگاه ششم دریایی خود در بحرین ماموریت دادند تا تحقیقی در مورد چگونگی رخ داد این حادثه به عمل آورد. گزارش آدمیرال فوگارتی، عامل اصلی این حادثه را خطای انسانی پرسنل ناو وینسنس عنوان کرد و بلافاصله اضافه می کند که در شرایط خطر از این اشتباهات رخ می دهد و تاکید می کند که فرمانده و پرسنل ناو در این حادثه مستحق تنبیه نیستند! آمریکا بعدا عاملان این جنایت را تشویق هم کرد! این موضوع عمدتا از ناحیه رسانه های ما با توجه به تراژدی انسانی که در پی داشت به صورت احساسی و عاطفی مورد بررسی قرار گرفته است. به همین دلیل بسیاری از جنبه های آن مورد بررسی قرار نگرفت. در حالیکه این موضوع از ابعاد مختلف و آثار و پیامدهایی که داشت نیازمند مطالعه و بررسی است. تاثیری که این موضوع در حقوق بین المللی هوانوردی داشت. آثاری که بر افکار عمومی دنیا بر جای گذاشت. تبعاتی که این حادثه در وضعیت جنگ ایران و عراق به جای گذاشت. تغییری که در رویکرد ایران به سازمان های بین المللی ایجاد کرد. ایران برای اولین بار در طول جنگ در این حادثه به شورای امنیت مراجعه کرد و همزمان موضوع را از طریق سازمان بین المللی هوانوردی نیز پیگیری کرد و علاوه براین برای پیگیری قضایی به دیوان دادگستری بین المللی در لاهه نیز مراجعه کرد. بسیاری موضوعات دیگر در رابطه با این موضوع وجود دارند که درخور بررسی جدی می باشند. حمله به هواپیمای مسافربری نقض شدید حقوق بین المللی است و به آسانی قابل توجیه نیست. به همین دلیل با اینکه آمریکایی ها در مواقع مختلف در جنگ تحمیلی مانند حمله به سکوهای نفتی ایران و یا زدن کشتی ایران اجر و یا مختل کردن ارتباط مخابراتی در خلیج فارس برای کمک به جنگنده های عراقی در حمله به پایانه های نفتی ایران، اقدامات خصمانه علیه ایران انجام دادند، اما برای هیچیک از آنها به دنبال توجیه و یا حل کردن موضوع و خارج کردن آن از دستورکار نبودند و همه آنها را در راستای تامین امنیت کشتیرانی در خلیج فارس می پوشاندند. اما در حادثه زدن هواپیمای مسافربری، برای کاستن از اهمیت این موضوع و ایجاد نوعی تخفیف روانی دو مسئله خطای انسانی و نیز بحث دفاع از خود را برجسته کردند و تلاش وافری کردند تا با پرداخت خسارت به خانواده قربانیان سریعتر این موضوع را قبل از رسیدگی در دیوان دادگستری بین المللی، خاتمه دهند. در سال 2009 در نشست فوروم امنیتی ژنو که از سوی دانشگاه وبستر برگزار گردید اینجانب حادثه سرنگونی هواپیمای مسافربری ایران را به عنوان یک موضوع مستقل طرح کردم و سخنرانی خود را در این زمینه ارائه نمودم که توجه زیادی برانگیخت و همچنین موجب بحث های کارشناسی جدی در آن نشست شد. زیرا در آن سخنرانی اعتبار بسیاری از فرض های جاافتاده از سوی آمریکایی ها زیر سوال رفت و به چالش کشیده شد. مقاله اینجانب به زبان انگلیسی بعدا از سوی دانشگاه یادشده منتشر گردید
237 A Review of the 3 July 1988 Aerial Incident in the Persian Gulf Mohammad Taghi Hosseini Counsellor, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, Geneva. On 3 July 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) on the Bandar Abbas – Dubai air route. This event resulted in the loss of life of 290 innocent civilians. There were passengers from six nations, including 66 children on board. Thirty-eight of the passengers were from countries other than Iran. At the beginning, the US forces claimed to have targeted an Iranian F-14 fighter. It did not take long to realize that the reality was absolutely different. The images of the airplane’s debris and a significant number of bodies of Iran Air Flight 655, east of Hengham Island, close to the bases of US forces in the Persian Gulf, were very soon dispatched and shocked the world opinion. The US then admitted the tragedy and declared that the USS Vincennes shot down a civilian Iranian airliner “in self-defense at what it believed to be a hostile Iranian military aircraft.”1 The tragedy is a unique one in many aspects. Iran called it a “criminal act,” an “atrocity” and a “massacre,”2 but the US insisted to call it “a proper defensive action.”3 The incident had many consequences. In one aspect, it manifested the gravity of the situation in the region at the time, due to the presence of foreign forces and the unpredictability of the events. The US forces had gradually become involved in supporting Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Before this time, the US and many other major powers, including the Soviet Union and some European countries, were supporting Saddam Hussein with intelligence and a flow of advanced weapons. At this stage, the US forces had gone much further and became active in military operations against Iranian targets. American attacks on Iranian targets, such as the Iranian offshore oil platforms 1 Public papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan 1980., Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services, Washington D.C., 1990, p. 468. See also the 6 July 1988 letter by Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations to UN Security Council. 2 Statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati before the Security Council (15 July 1988). 3 Statement by President of the United States Ronald Reagan (3 July 1988). 238 Webster Security Forum of Resalat and Reshadeat on 18 April 1988, Nasr, Salman, and Mobarak in October 1988, are examples of the deep US involvement in the war. Following the aerial incident on 3 July 1988, the role of international organizations became a focus. Iran raised the issue in the Security Council. It was the first time since the beginning of the war in 1980 that Iran brought an issue to the attention of the Security Council.4 Iran also raised the matter with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In search of the root cause of the event, I would like to raise a few questions. I will review the event and the developments related to it. The argument I would like to make in this article is that the US gradually became deeply involved in the war against Iran, substantially affecting its behavior in the region. This event was not the sole incident between Iran and the US, but is one of many other hostile acts to occur between the two countries. Factual Context In September 1980, shortly after the Iranian revolution, Iraqi military forces under Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, triggering an eight-year war. The invasion aimed to overthrow the new government in Iran. For this, Saddam had received direct or indirect support from the major powers, including the United States. Since relations between Iran and the US turned to a deteriorated situation, particularly after the US Embassy in Tehran was stormed by Iranian students, the US was counting on a dramatic military incursion to inflict a lethal blow to the revolutionary government in Tehran. Therefore, though the US declared that it would refrain from “any interference or involvement”5 in the war between Iran and Iraq, keeping to a position of “strict neutrality”6 or a stance of “impartiality,”7 in practice, the US government lent any kind of support possible to Saddam’s regime in the war against Iran. In some cases, US forces even entered into direct action against Iran. At the final stage of the war, US forces in the Persian Gulf became extremely present, resulting in some catastrophic events. The aerial incident on 3 July 1988 is such an example. The conflict was initially limited to a land war between Iran and Iraq. Given the inconclusive war on land, in 1984, Iraq decided to spread the war to the Persian Gulf and began attacking ships on their way to and from Iranian ports, in an attempt to disrupt Iran’s oil exports.8 The purchase of French 4 Parsons, Sir Anthony, “Iran and the United Nations, with particular reference to the Iran- Iraq war,” in Ehteshami, Anoshirvan and Varasteh, Mansur (eds.), Iran and the International Community, Routledge, London, 1991, p. 22. 5 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter 1980 – 1981, Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services, Washington D.C., 1982, p. 1900. 6 Ibid., p. 1906. 7 De Guttry, Andrea and Ronzitti, Natalino (eds.), The Iran – Iraq War (1980 – 1988) and the Law of Naval Warfare, Grotius Publications Ltd., Cambridge, 1993, p. 111. 8 Bekker, Pieter H. F., “Oil Platforms (Iran V. United States), ICJ, November 2003,” The 239 EXOCET missiles in 1983 provided Iraq with a credible ship attack capability.9 Iraq attacked commercial vessels in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.10 These were nearly all tankers and cargo ships calling at the Iranian ports of Bandar Imam Khomeini and Bushehr. Later on, Iraq extended this action to announce a “total blockade” of Kharg Island, warning that any ship found in the area would be treated as hostile and would be liable to attack on sight.11 This started a new phase of the war, generally known as “the Tanker War.” Besides damaging Iran’s economy, the Tanker War was also initiated by Iraq with the specific objective of involving outside forces in the conflict.12 Since there were no Iraqi tankers in the Persian Gulf at the time, Iran retaliated by striking tankers in 1984 to prevent war supplies from reaching Iraq. Iranian attacks were considerably less frequent than those of Iraq, and were mainly intended warn the two countries against supporting Iraq too overtly and to push Saudi Arabia and Kuwait13 to pressure Iraq to cease the Tanker War.14 This inevitably attracted adverse criticism and led to a formidable armada of foreign warships. But there was no specific international condemnation of the Iraqi attacks and no serious attempt made to persuade or coerce Iraq into desisting from them. This was the case in spite of the fact that all members of the international community must have realized that if Iraq stopped attacking shipping, Iran would follow suit immediately.15 This imbalance in the international response, as exemplified by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 552 (1984), persisted.16 In 1987American, French, British, Soviet, Italian, Dutch and Belgian warships in the region increased to over seventy.17 The decision by the US, in response to a request of Kuwait to reflag Kuwaiti tankers, seriously involved the US in the conflict.18 Saddam Hussein’s strategy of involving outside forces in the conflict was effective. This decision by the US to reflag the tankers, particularly when considered American Journal of International Law, No. 98 (3), July 2004), p. 551. 9 United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. 10 De Guttry, Andrea and Ronzitti, Natalino, Op. Cit., p. 61. 11 Ibid., p. 61. Also see: Kissing’s Contemporary Archives, Vol. 28, 1982, p. 31,850. 12 Gamlen, Elizabeth and Ragers, Paul, “US Reflagging of Kuwaiti Tankers,” The Iran – Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression, Rajaee, Farhang (ed.), University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1993, p. 123-151. 13 Saudi Arabia and Kuwait funded Iraq‘s war. According to independent sources, Saudi Arabia spent more than 70 billion USD, and Kuwait spent more than 45 billion to support Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran. For further study, see the following sources: Sheikholeslami, Reza, “Saudi Arabia and the United States: Partnership in the Persian Gulf,” The Iran – Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression, Rajaee, Farhang (ed.), University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1993, p. 103-122. McNaugher, Thomas, Pipeline and Power in the Gulf: Shifting Balances, Energy Research Associates, Cambridge (MA), 1986. 14 Gamlen, Elizabeth and Ragers, Paul, Op. Cit., p. 145. 15 Parsons, Sir Anthony, Op. Cit., p. 19. 16 Ibid., p. 19. 17 Ibid., p. 21. 18 De Guttry, Andrea and Ronzitti, Natalino, Op. Cit., p. 121. 240 Webster Security Forum in the context of its other actions, can reasonably be considered partisan. It seriously constrained Iran’s ability to conduct the war. Iraq was able to continue attacking tankers with impunity, while severe penalties were increasingly imposed on Iran.19 The US had a particular interest in the Persian Gulf, and considered it as an important region in the context of energy geopolitics. In the view of the US decision makers and according to its traditional Cold War policy, the Soviet Union was the major threat in the Persian Gulf Theater. They were of the view that a chain of events, including the withdrawal of the British forces from the region in 1971, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which toppled the pro-American regime of the Shah, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in December 1979, had resulted in a vacuum of power in the region, which might lead to more unforeseen events. They were concerned that the Soviets may be tempted to assert their presence in the Persian Gulf. The so called “Carter Doctrine” noted the Persian Gulf’s importance to the flow of oil and stated that any attempt “by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region” would be regarded “as an assault on the vital interest of the United States of America, and will be responded by any means necessary, including military force.”20 US military bases were already present in the region. In the 1980s, its forces in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf were reinforced, and assigned with new objectives. This was intended to escort Kuwaiti oil tankers registered under the American flag, limit Iranian marine activities, and tighten the US imposed embargo on Iran. On 3 July 1988, on the day the Iranian Airbus was targeted by USS Vincennes, there were three other US warships around the Strait of Hormuz: the USS Sides and the USS Elmer Montgomery. The later was on patrol in the northern portion of the Strait of Hormuz, while the former was “approximately 18 miles to the east and became involved in the evolving tactical situation.”21 This accumulation of forces in the Persian Gulf was by its nature destabilizing for the region. Due to this substantial military build up, the situation was ripe for an incident to occur. Course of the incident Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) left Bandar Abbas at 10:17 AM on 3 July 1988, 27 minutes after its scheduled departure time of 9:50 a.m. It would then have needed 28 minutes longer than expected to reach its destination, Dubai Airport. 19 Ibid., p. 147. 20 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter 1980 – 1981, Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services, Washington D.C., 1982, p. 346. 21 United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. 241 Captain Mohsen Rezaian would pass over the Strait of Hormuz, where the USS Vincennes was escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers. At this time, the US Navy guided missile cruiser was stationed 40 miles north of its required position in the Strait of Hormuz.22 Rather than being stationed in international waters, it was inside Iranian territorial waters, and lay directly in the airplane’s path. Flight 655 took off on runway 21, was directed by the Bandar Abbas tower to squawk IFF, mode III, code 6760, and began a normal climb to the assigned altitude of 14’000 feet. The flight lasted a total of seven minutes before the plane was hit by missiles from USS Vincennes. The pilot remained within the Amber 59 air corridor (twenty miles wide, ten miles each side of centerline), made a routine position report to Bandar Abbas departure control at approximately 0654Z, and was ascending to 12,000 feet at a speed of approximately 380 knots when he made his report.23 At approximately 0654Z, the missiles fired from the USS Vincennes impacted the aircraft at an altitude of 13,500 feet, approximately eight miles from the warship, still while in the assigned air corridor. Debris from the aircraft and a significant number of bodies were found 6.5 miles east of Hengham Island at 26-37.75′N/56-01′E.24 According to US government reports, the cruiser mistakenly identified the Iranian airplane as an attacking military fighter. The USS Vincennes, it was reported, identified the flight profile being flown by the A300B2 as being similar to that of an Iranian Air Force F-14A Tomcat during an attack run. The same report stated that the USS Vincennes had tried more than once to contact Flight 655, but that it received no acknowledgement. The official ICAO report stated that these attempts to contact Iran Air 655 were sent on the wrong frequency and addressed to a non-existent “Iranian F-14.”25 At 10:24 AM., Captain Rogers, the Commanding Officer of the Vincennes ordered to fire two SM-2ER anti-aircraft missiles at the assumed F-14 fighter jet. A few seconds later, with the Airbus still on its assigned climb and slightly to one side, but well within air corridor Amber 59, was intercepted by one or both of the missiles at a range of eight nautical miles and an altitude of 13,500 feet. Flight 655, with some 290 people on board, tumbled in flames into the Gulf. The entire incident, from takeoff to impact, had taken less than seven minutes. There were no survivors. By noon that day, Iranian helicopters and boats began to search the area and recover bodies. It was not until later in the day that the officers and men of the Vincennes would learn that what they had shot down was not an Iranian F-14 but a civilian, commercial flight.26 22 Saltus, Richard, “A Tragic Error Led to New Insights on Behavior in Crises,” Boston Globe, 28 February 1994. 23 United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. 24 Ibid. 25 ICAO Report, p. A-3 (Nov. 7 1988), cited in Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. 26 The Washington Post reported on 30 April 1990 that the Legion of Merit, the U.S. armed forces second highest award, was presented to Captain Rogers and Lieutenant Commander Lustig (the weapons officer) for meritorious conduct and “heroic achievement” on July 3, 242 Webster Security Forum The US Administration finally admitted “the human tragedy of Iran Air 655.”27 The investigation by Rear Admiral William M. Fogarty in Bahrain revealed that “mistakes were made on board Vincennes that day.”28 But he added that “in itself it is not surprising to anyone who understands the stress of hostile action in a life or death situation. No military combat operation is flawless, even when there is a successful outcome.29 Therefore, Admiral Fogarty’s investigation recommended that “no disciplinary action should be taken against any US Naval personnel associated with this incident.”30 While issuing notes of regret over the loss of human life, the US Administration has, to date, neither admitted its responsibility in this tragedy, nor apologized, but continues to blame Iranian hostile actions for the incident. It cited that “The error followed not from the presence of the US or other Western navies in the Persian Gulf, but rather from the war itself.”31 Denying its responsibility, the US announced that on a purely voluntary basis, it would offer ex gratia payments to families of civilian victims, noting that the gesture was “not on the basis of any legal liability or obligation.”32 International organizations proceedings The issue of the aerial incidents in the Persian Gulf has come under the consideration by the UN Security Council, the ICAO, and the ICJ. During the war, Iran had boycotted the Security Council, because it was regarded as not impartial. In many instances, the Council, or its influential members, sided with Iraq.33 However, Iran chose to ignore the Council and instead worked directly with the Secretary General.34 For the first time since the war began, in mid-July 1988, the Iranian government took the initiative of calling a meeting of the Security Council. In requesting a meeting of the Security Council, Iran 1988. The citations did not mention the downing of the Iran Air flight 655 at all. 27 Statement by US Vice-President George H.W. Bush before the UN Security Council, 14 July 1988. 28 Statement by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe, 19 August 1988. 29 Ibid., See also American Foreign Policy: Documents, 1988, 1989, Doc, 259. 30 Statement by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff William Crowe, 19 August 1988. 31 Statement by US Vice-President George H.W. Bush before the UN Security Council, 14 July 1988. 32 Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Marlin Fitzwater, 11 July 1988. 33 Iran had many arguments for its approach towards the Security Council. For instance: (i) Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980, but the Council convened its meeting one-week after the invasion on 28 September 1980, which was a reward for the invader. At that meeting, the Council did not act under Chapter VII of the Charter and did not establish that the peace and security had been threatened (Compare this with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the Council convened within hours and acted under Chapter VII of the Charter). (ii) During the war, Iraq used chemical weapons largely against Iranian civilians in addition to military personnel. The Council never explicitly condemned Iraq for this act. (iii) In regards to both the “Tanker War” and the “War of the Cities,” the actions by the Security Council were not impartial. 34 Picco, Giandomenico, Man Without a Gun, Times Books/Random House, New York, 1999, p. 81. 243 expected the Council to condemn the United States,35 and that a fair decision on this issue would melt the ice between Tehran and the Security Council.36 The Security Council convened on 14 July 1988. Foreign Minister Velayati represented Iran at the meeting, and Vice-President George H. W. Bush represented the US government. Velayati called the action an “inhuman massacre of innocent civilian.”37 He gave a detailed report of this event and specified that regardless of whether the incident happened deliberately or by mistake, the incident was the result of the large-scale presence of US forces in the Persian Gulf and the US policy of siding with one party to a conflict (i.e. Iraq). On his part, George Bush insisted that “the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense” and put the blame on Iran for continuing the war.38 There was neither remorse nor guilt in the US response. The finger of blame was pointed to the airliner and the course it took, instead of those who lunched the missiles. After a few days, the Council adopted the Resolution 616 (20 July 1988), which did not contain a condemnation of the United States. The Security Council, while expressing distress at the downing of a civil airliner during its scheduled flight by a missile fired from an American warship, and profound regret over the tragic loss of innocent lives, welcomed the decision by the ICAO to institute an immediate fact finding investigation in that regard. The Security Council remained dormant as far as matters of accountability were concerned. Iran had raised the issue initially before the ICAO and subsequently before the ICJ. Immediately after the destruction of the airliner, Iran “urgently requested that this grave matter be tabled in the ICAO council as a matter of urgency.” Iran alleged inter alia American violation of the Chicago Convention (1944) and Montréal Convention (1971) and requested the ICAO Council to condemn the shooting down of IR655 by US military forces in the Persian Gulf as a crime of international character in breach of international law and legal duties of a contracting state to the ICAO, while seeking compensation from the US for moral and financial damages.39 Though the case was more relevant for consideration under Article 84 of the Chicago Convention, the ICAO Council considered it under Articles 54 and 55. The reason given by the Council was that the Islamic Republic of Iran, in its request, had not made reference to Article 84.40 The Council of the ICAO expressed profound regret over the loss of 290 lives and deplored the use of weapons against 35 Statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati before the Security Council, 15 July 1988. 36 Picco, Giandomenico. Op. Cit., p. 81. 37 Statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati before the Security Council, 15 July 1988. 38 Statement by US Vice-President George H.W. Bush before the UN Security Council, 14 July 1988. 39 Letter from Secretary General of the ICAO Philippe Rochat to the registrar of the International Court of Justice, 4 December 1992, containing the observations of the ICAO Council on the Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988. 40 Ibid., Para. 4. 244 Webster Security Forum a civilian aircraft, but it avoided to mention the US by name or condemn the USS Vincennes’ attack on the aircraft.41 The Council established a fact-finding investigation to determine all relevant technical aspects that led to the destruction of the aircraft.42 Iran also brought the case to the International Court of Justice. But before the court had reached the point of adjudication on the merits of the issue, the case was withdrawn. In February 1996, both Iran and the US notified the Court of a settlement agreement and their decision to discontinue the case with the International Court of Justice.43 Self-defense or act of aggression The US administration described the action taken by the USS Vincennes in shooting down IR655 on 3 July 1988 as an act of self-defense. In the view of the US administration, the USS Vincennes fired on the IR655 “to protect itself against possible attack”44 and “Capitan Rogers did what he had to do to protect his ship and the lives of his crew, since as a military commander, his first duty and responsibility was to protect his men and his ship.”45 Iran of course rejected the argument and described it as an act of aggression. There are established rules in the international community to differentiate between an act of self-defense and an act of aggression. In accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, only a state which is subjected to an armed attack is entitled to resort to force in order to defend itself.46 The key element in defining self-defense is the existence of an attack, which in this case is absolutely out of the question. In other words, the use of force in self-defense can only be initiated in response to a prior armed attack. Even with the new interpretation of the right of self-defense extended to preemptive measures before occurrence of an armed attack, which is debatable and a non-consensus doctrine in international law, in this particular case, the US cannot justify its act in destruction of a civil aircraft as a preemptive measure of self-defense. Bearing in mind that the civilian airliner “did not even have the potential of launching an attack,” how can its destruction be justified under the terms of self-defense or even a preemptive measure?47 The US, through its other actions, such as the attacks on Iranian oil platforms, vessels, and particularly by the destruction of IR655, had become a cobelligerent 41 Statement by President of the ICAO Council Assad Kotaite approved at the Extraordinary Session of the Council held on 13 and 14 July 1988. 42 Ibid., Para. 4. 43 Settlement Agreement countersigned by Representatives of Iran and the US on the case concerning the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 before the International Court of Justice (February 1996). 44 Statement by US President Ronald Reagan (3 July 1988). 45 Statement by Vice-President George Bush before the US Security Council (14 July 1988). 46 Statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati before the Security Council (15 July 1988). 47 Ibid. 245 in the war.48 All these actions by the US bear the characteristics of an act of aggression as defined in the UN’s resolution on the Definition of Aggression. The same resolution explicitly sets out that included among acts constituting acts of aggression is “the use of any arms by one State against the territory of another State.”49 These facts, together with the US policy of supplying arms and other forms of support to the Iraqi regime, supports the Iranian point of view of the US as a co-belligerent.50 Although the case was withdrawn from the International Court of Justice before the court reached the point of adjudication on its merits, had it had remained before the Court for substantive consideration, it would have been impossible for the US to justify its act under the guise of self-defense. There are other cases to support this argument. The Court also considered the US attack on Iranian oil platforms, which the US also argued came under the rule of self-defense. The US Navy attacked the offshore oil platforms of Resalat and Reshadeat on 18 April 1988, and Nasr, Salman, and Mobarak oil platforms in October 1988. Iran filed the case with the International Court of Justice. The case is known as “oil platforms” (Iran v. United States). On November 6th 2003, the ICJ ruled that “the US attacks on the Iranian oil platforms constituted recourse to armed force that did not qualify, under the United Nations Charter and the customary international law, as acts of self-defense (and) were not justifiable as measures necessary to protect the security interests of the United States.”51 The court also concluded that the US had not submitted sufficient evidence to indicate Iranian responsibility for any claimed attack, including a missile attack on the Sea Isle City, and thus, to justify the US attacks as acts of self-defense. The evidence was mostly circumstantial. The United States had been unable to produce direct physical evidence that the Sea Isle City had been struck by a certain type of missile claimed to be used by Iran.52 The Court also agreed that evidence of Iranian responsibility for the USS Samuel B. Roberts incident, in which it struck a mine, was inconclusive.53 This ruling can also be applied to the case of the destruction of the IR655. Evidence provided by US was insufficient and could not justify the act as self-defense. Furthermore, the US had a responsibility to 48 On different occasions, US forces in the Persian Gulf were involved in the war either by direct attacks on Iranian vessels and oil platforms or by placing its facilities at the disposal of the Iraqi Regime and providing a safe corridor for Iraqi jets to attack Iranian tankers. For instance on 14 May 1988, Iraq targeted several tankers close to the Larak Island Terminal. The US Navy contributed to this attack by jamming the communications network of the Iranian warships. Doc. S/19885, 16 May 1988. 49 Resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974. 50 Momtaz, Djamchid, “The Inherent Right of Individual Self-Defense in the Iran-Iraq War,” The Iran – Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression, in Rajee, Farhang (ed.), University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1993. 183-190. 51 Judgment on Oil platforms (Iran v. United States), Merits, Para. 125 (ICJ Nov. 6, 2003), 42 ILM 1334 (2003). 52 Ibid., Para. 58-64. 53 Ibid., Para. 72. See also: Bekker, Pieter H. F., “Oil Platforms (Iran V. United States), ICJ, November 2003,” The American Journal of International Law, No. 98 (3), July 2004, p. 550-558. 246 Webster Security Forum observe the fundamental principle of refraining from resorting to the use of weapons against a civilian aircraft. Causes and Contributors Several critics and analysts tried to explain the causes of the tragedy. Most of them emphasized the technical failures or human errors. A multitude of factors, including human and technical error due to the human/system interface, poor decision-making, erroneous assumptions, and other psychological factors were considered in explaining the cause of the incident.54 Human errors were directly caused by deficiencies in the USS Vincennes’ automated “Aegis” battle management system, in addition to a lack of training, which led to faulty interpretation of data. The Fogarty report placed a particular emphasis on the psychological factors. It expressed that the most reasonable explanation was that Capitan Rogers’s behavior was induced by a combination of physiological fatigue, combat operations, stress, and tension, which can adversely affect performance and mission execution. The result of these factors, according to the report, was that the American captain had no doubt that the aircraft was an Iranian F-14, which was headed toward his ship, and which had failed to acknowledge repeated warnings.55 More attention to emergency signals than computer analysis display, tension, lack of time, fog and friction of war were among the factors accounting for the USS Stark incident, which was severely damaged a year earlier by an Iraqi fighter jet. These are all technical factors, which may or may not have contributed to the course of action. Beyond all these, another important factor, deserves to be carefully taken into account, more political rather than technical: the United States gradually became involved in the regional conflict and had become a co-belligerent in supporting the regime of Saddam Hussein in its invasion of Iran. The US and its forces in the region therefore had a psychological hunger for action against Iran. In that situation, irrational acts were to be expected. On several occasions, the US forces commenced attacks against Iranian targets, simply acting on false hypotheses. For instance, in October 1987 after the Kuwaiti tanker Sea Isle City, reflagged as a US vessel, was hit by a missile near a Kuwaiti harbor, the US attacked and destroyed the Iranian oil platforms of Resalat and Reshadat in the Persian Gulf, asserting that the they were being used as a staging facility for attacks by Iranian forces 54 See the following sources: Bower, Bruce, “‘Human Factors’ and Military Decisions,” Science News, No. 134 (16), 15 October 1988, p. 245. Morrocco et al., “Iranian Airbus Shoot down,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 11 July 1988. Saltus, Richard, “A Tragic Error Led to New Insights on Behavior in Crises,” Boston Globe, 28 February 1994. 55 United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. 247 against shipping in the Persian Gulf. Also, in April 1988 as part of “Operation Praying Mantis,” US forces attacked the Iranian oil platforms of Nasr and Salman, after the USS Samuel B. Roberts was struck mines laid in the Persian Gulf. The US military authorities concluded that the mines were laid by Iran and therefore, this justified their attack on Iranian oil platforms. Both incidents took place based on a false hypothesis and perhaps misleading information. Later on during the deliberations of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it became clear that Iranian forces had not conducted any of these attacks against US forces. Iran provided evidence that the mine that struck USS Samuel B. Roberts had been laid by Iraq.56 No evidence could be found by the US to support the claim that the Sea Isle City had been struck by a certain type of missile said to be used by Iran.57 This demonstrates that Iraq was successful in deceiving US forces in various ways, to gradually engage them in the war. At that time, due to the hostile policy of towards Iran, it was too easy for US forces to conclude that Iran, as an “evildoer,” would have a hand in every one of these event. It provided a good opportunity for the Iraqi regime and its supporters in the Persian Gulf to mislead US decision makers. The policy of supporting Saddam’s regime by the US resulted in more tragic events, including a foreign policy disaster. Many years passed until the US authorities realized the gravity of the country’s narrow-minded policy during the Iran-Iraq war. In March 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pointed out that “aspects of US Policy towards Iraq, during its conflict with Iran appears now to have been regrettably shortsighted, especially in light of our subsequent experiences with Saddam Hussein.”58 Saddam’s invasion, subsequent occupation, and looting of Kuwait in addition to threats made against Saudi Arabia rang the alarm bell for the US and its allies. From 1990 to this day, the US has been involved with this issue. A long and expensive war (three trillion dollars), numbering hundreds of thousands of deaths among Iraqi civilians and US soldiers, finds its roots in the mistaken policies of the past.59 Conclusion The destruction of IR655 by the USS Vincennes is a tragic incident with many consequences. It can be viewed from different perspectives, and is important for various reasons: political, legal, organizational, military technology, 56 The Judgment on Oil platforms (Iran v. United States), Merits, Para. 125 (ICJ Nov. 6, 2003), 42 ILM 1334 (2003), Para. 70. 57 Ibid., Para. 58-64. 58 Remarks by Madeleine Albright before the American – Iranian Council, 17 March 2000. 59 Stiglitz, Joseph E. and Bilmes, Linda J., The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2008. 248 Webster Security Forum strategic, and moral. Each may have different explanations for the occurrence of this event: technological failure, psychological factors, fatigue, human error, lack of training, stress, tension, scenario fulfillment, more attention to emergency signals than computer analysis display, lack of time, fog and friction of war, and a long list containing many other factors may be discussed in this regard. There is no question that each played a role. However, none can justify such a tragedy, caused by a responsible state and an advanced and disciplined military force. This act was a violation of international law and human standards. Even in terms of military strategy, it provided neither victory nor pride. The gradual involvement of the US in the conflict, its hostile attitude towards Iran at that time and its questionable support of Saddam’s regime in its war against Iran were the main causes of such events, bearing grave consequences. The US involvement gradually became deeper, which adversely affected the military judgments of the US forces. The destruction of IR655 is an example of misjudgment and bad decision-making by these forces. Attacks on oil platforms and Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, largely based on false hypotheses, are examples of a chain of mistaken policies that finally resulted in long lasting dilemma for US foreign policy. The destruction of IR655 has become a case before international organizations, such as the Security Council and the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Both international bodies, although expressing profound regrets over the innocent passengers’ loss of life, failed to condemn the attack. Yet they acted differently in previous but similar cases. For example, in the case of the shooting down of a Korean aircraft Boeing 747 on September 1st 1983 by the former Soviet Union, both bodies took a strong position in condemning the attack. Although the Soviet Union, as a permanent member of the Security Council, vetoed the resolution, it did cause Moscow embarrassment for having violated the safety of civil aviation and underlined the lack of resolution by the Security Council. In the case of the destruction of IR655, the Security Council and the ICAO Council remained dormant as far as matters of accountability were concerned. Their avoidance to condemn the attack was interpreted as a case of double standard. The incident re-emphasized the need to strictly observe the basic principles of international law and protection of civilians in cases of tension and conflict, including the full observation of the safety and security rules of civil aviation. This principle obligation of states should not be compromised under any circumstances. In this regard, not only should the rules be further strengthened, but also their observation. The magnitude of the event is so high that it deserves the establishment of as strong of rules as possible. 249 Bibliography American Foreign Policy, Documents, 1988, 1989, Doc, 259. Bekker, Pieter H. F., “Oil Platforms (Iran V. United States), ICJ, November 2003,” The American Journal of International Law, No. 98 (3), July 2004, p. 551. Bower, Bruce, “‘Human Factors’ and Military Decisions,” Science News, No. 134 (16), 15 October 1988, p. 245. Bush, George H.W., Statement by Vice-President before the United Nations Security Council, 14 July 1988. Crowe, William, Statement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 19 August 1988. De Guttry, Andrea and Ronzitti, Natalino (eds.), The Iran-Iraq War (1980 – 1988) and the Law of Naval Warfare, Grotius Publications Ltd., Cambridge, 1993. Ehteshami, Anoshirvan and Varasteh, Mansur (eds.), Iran and the International Community, Routledge, London, 1991. Gamlen, Elizabeth and Ragers, Paul, “US Reflagging of Kuwaiti Tankers,” in Rajaee, Farhang (ed.), The Iran-Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1993, p. 123-151. ICAO Report, p. A-3 (Nov. 7 1988), cited in United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. Judgment on Oil Platforms (Iran v. United States), Merits, Para. 125 (ICJ Nov. 6, 2003), 42 ILM 1334 (2003). Kotaite, Assad, Statement by the President of the ICAO Council approved at the Extraordinary Session of the Council held on 13 and 14 July 1988. McNaugher, Thomas, Pipeline and Power in the Gulf: Shifting Balances, Energy Research Associates, Cambridge (MA), 1986. Morrocco et al., “Iranian Airbus Shoot down,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 11 July 1988. Parsons, Sir Anthony, “Iran and the United Nations, with particular reference to the Iran-Iraq war,” Iran and the International Community, Ehteshami, Anoshirvan and Varasteh, Mansur (eds.). Routledge, London, 1991, p. 22. Picco, Giandomenico, Man Without a Gun, Times Books/Random House, New York, 1999. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter 1980 – 1981, Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services, Washington D.C., 1982. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan 1980, Federal Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General Services, Washington D.C., 1990. Reagan, Ronald, Statement by the President of the United States, 3 July 1988. Rochat, Philippe, Letter from the Secretary General of the ICAO to the registrar of the International Court of Justice, containing the observations of the ICAO Council on the Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988, 4 December 1992. Saltus, Richard, “A Tragic Error Led to New Insights on Behavior in Crises,” Boston Globe, 28 February 1994. Settlement Agreement countersigned by Representatives of Iran and the US, on the case 250 Webster Security Forum concerning the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 before the International Court of Justice, February 1996. Sheikholeslami, Reza, “Saudi Arabia and the United States: Partnership in the Persian Gulf,” The Iran – Iraq War: The Politics of Aggression, in Rajaee, Farhang (ed.), University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 1993, p. 103-122. Stiglitz, Joseph E. and Bilmes, Linda J., The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2008. UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974 Doc. S/19885, 16 May 1988. United States Department of Defense, Formal investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, 19 August 1988. Velayati, Ali Akbar, Statement by Iranian Foreign Minister before the United Nations Security Council, 15 July 1988. Walters, Vernon, Letter by the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations to UN Security Council, 6 July 1988.