National Security

Iranian Commander Bragged of Unilateral Authority to Shoot Down Planes

In 2016, Iran said even the youngest officers do not need authorization to launch attacks

A senior Iranian commander who admitted to Iran's role in the recent downing of a Ukrainian airplane bragged in 2016 that even the youngest Iranian officers have unilateral authority to conduct strikes like the one that downed the Ukrainian plane, killing every civilian aboard, according to video obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aerospace division, said over the weekend that his country "accepts full responsibility" for the airstrike that brought down the Ukrainian commercial plane. Hajizadeh said his country's forces were on high alert following a ramp up in military tensions with the United States.

U.S. officials familiar with the situation said it is likely Iran mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian jet, fearing a retaliatory strike by the United States for Iran's missile attacks this week on several American outposts in the region.

Hajizadeh's 2016 remarks bragging about Iran's desire to launch attacks is likely to raise fresh concerns about the possibility of further strikes on commercial airlines flying in and around Iranian airspace.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly order to American commercial airlines operating in the region just hours before Iran downed the Ukrainian plane, the Free Beacon reported this week.

Hajizadeh said that young Iranian officers do not need to obtain permission before launching strikes similar to the one that downed the Ukrainian plane.

"Ahead of time, scenarios have been planned and units have been given the authorization," Hajizadeh said in the 2016 interview, which was independently translated for the Free Beacon. "Look, when it comes to the shooting of defensive missiles, if an enemy aircraft is incoming, why would we be asking permission from someone? It's possible that a sub-commander is manning the system I tell him and he shoots and hits [the target]."

"A while ago when we hit the Zionist regime's Hermès system at Natanz, it's not that they asked me or the general staff or the defense commander for permission," Hajizadeh disclosed at the time. "The officer manning the system saw, assessed, and struck. It's the same situation with the surface-to-surface missiles. It's not like an order is issued—the officers start the initial operation but any continuation and the policy planning would be done by the senior commanders. But the initial operation, the reaction, would be done immediately."

The IRGC's policy regarding such strikes appears to have backfired. Hajizadeh said in his most recent remarks on the Ukrainian strike that the Iranian officer who ordered the attack made a "bad decision."