A Mahan Air Airbus A310, like the one involved in Thursday’s incident over Syria. (Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s foreign ministry warned on Monday that the regime would make the United States regret an incident in which a U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet approached an Iranian passenger plane over Syrian airspace on Thursday, calling it an act of terrorism and violation of international law.
Tehran has lodged a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization, and is also looking to the United Nations for support, the ministry said.
“The Americans are trying all types of banditry, and have shifted from maritime banditry to aerial one,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“The Iranian foreign ministry will definitely take all necessary measures, together with the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the Judiciary, and Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, to make the Americans regret this episode,” he said.
The incident involved an aircraft of Mahan Air, on a flight from Tehran to Beirut, Lebanon. The U.S. government has designated the airline for transporting weaponry and military personnel to conflict zones on behalf of the Qods Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps division responsible for military and terrorist operations abroad.
U.S. Central Command confirmed that a U.S. F-15 on a routine patrol had conducted “a standard visual inspection” of the Iranian aircraft, saying it had kept “a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters [3,280 feet] from the airliner.”
CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said the reason for the inspection was “to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison.”
At Tanf is a base in southern Syria, near that country’s borders with Jordan and Iraq, where a small number of U.S. forces remain as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to defeat ISIS.
The aerial observation took place in the vicinity of At Tanf, Urban said.
Iranian state television claimed two fighters had been involved, and had come within 100 meters (328 feet) of the Mahan plane. It said the pilots of the Airbus A310 had dropped swiftly to a lower altitude, and that three passenger had sustained injuries as a result of the sudden maneuver.
The plane had subsequently landed in Beirut as scheduled, and later returned to Tehran.
A U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle flies over Syria last year. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Clayton Cupit)
U.S. forces were first deployed to Syria in small numbers in 2014, in the context of the civil war and the rise of ISIS. From 2016, U.S. and coalition forces used the base at At Tanf to train vetted Syrian rebels to fight against the jihadist group, and declared a “deconfliction zone” in the area.
When President Trump last October announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he said that “a small footprint of United States forces will remain at At Tanf Garrison in southern Syria to continue to disrupt remnants of ISIS.”
Iranian officials and state media are drawing attention to the fact that the Assad regime never gave the U.S. permission to deploy troops on Syrian territory – unlike its Iranian, Hezbollah, and Russian allies, all of whom have been deeply involved in the nine-year conflict.
“Both the presence of U.S. troops in Syria and the air missions of their warplanes were illegal,” the foreign ministry said earlier. “More importantly, no one has allowed the United States to inspect passenger planes in the sky using its military fighters.”
The U.S. Treasury in 2011 sanctioned Mahan Air for “providing financial, material and technological support to” the IRGC-Qods Force, and also for transporting “personnel, weapons and goods on behalf of Hezbollah,” Iran’s Lebanese terrorist proxy which, like the IRGC, is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
When the German government early last year revoked Mahan Air’s license to fly to Germany, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the move, saying Mahan “transports weapons and fighters across the Middle East, supporting the Iranian regime’s destructive ambitions around the region. We encourage all our allies to follow suit.”