On 17 May 1989, an Iraqi aircraft was detected by an American AWACS aircraft flying toward an excursion zone in the Persian Gulf headed straight for the American Destroyer Stark. It demanded the Iraqi jet identify itself but there was no response. The American Air Traffic Controller was surprised because normally the Iraqi Mirage F-1 s normally complied with warnings but this one did not. The Iraqi French built Mirage F-1’s were flown by the Iraqi pilots known as the flying club because they were flying the best the Iraqis had and the pilots were mostly from prominent Sunni families tied into the Saddam regime. The Stark’s CO took no action because similar things had happened in the past and the Iraqis had turned away. This one did not. The CO did not see any early warning indications on his electronic detection systems so he did nothing, At 20 miles out the Starks radio operators sent a message to the Iraqi craft saying they were preparing to fire if the aircraft did not turn back immediately. The Iraqi aircraft did not have an IFF system on board.
At that moment the Iraqi aircraft fired two Exocet missiles. The Iraqi pilot did not know what he was firing at. It was just a blur on the screen. Simultane,ously the ships chief petty officer sounded battle stations but too late. Both missiles hit the Destroyer killing 37 crew members outright band 7 more died later. In order to keep the ship afloat, the captain had to flood the compartment were the bodies of the dead sailors were located. The ship limped beck to Bahrain and did not sink. The Iraqis apologized and all the evidence showed it was not a deliberate attack on the American ship.
The aftermath. Years later indicated it was not an F-1EQ5 but rather a Falcon 50 commercial Executive jet which was originally Iranian but had been brought to Iraq by Iranian deserters from the air force. It flew in airways normally used by commercial flights around the Gulf and flew higher to avoid detection, descending quickly to fire its missiles and head for home and a drink at the Flying Club water hole. The pilot was never identified by the Iraqi leadership, even after occupation by the Americans. ( One source says he fled to Iran). For his caution- and the fact that the commander always takes the responsibility- ( except for the Kabul debacle for which incompetent generals are still striding about the Pentagon), the Stark’s Captain was blamed. He did do a creditable job getting the ship back to port. However, he was fired and his naval career ended.
So fast forward to July 3, 1988. The US navy ship USS Vincennes was cruising near Abu Must island in the Persian Gulf island escorted by two Frigates, on their way to protect an oil tanker convoy against Iranian interdiction. The Vincennes was a up- to- date high tech guided missile Cruiser. equipped with latest air craft detection systems.
At some point Revolutionary Guard gunboats were detected moving toward the oil tanker convoy and the Vincennes with escorts sped up to attack the Iranian ships. Some fifty miles away from the original position of the American ships, they lost contact with the Iranian ships who had decided that that day was not a good day for martyrdom. Unfortunately at that point, an Iranian Airbus Fit. 655 left Tehran for a flight across the Gulf to the United Arab Emirates. It is ironic that most aboard were Iranians or their families who were working in the oil industry that their compatriots in then Iranian Armed forces were trying to destroy.
The airliner was detected but there was confusion as to whether it was civilian or military and the ship’s crew could not connect the flight to any known commercial flight. The Iranian airliner was warned on both the military and civilian frequencies but the Airliner crews were not monitoring them, happily sailing along with the InshaAllah attitude that all will be well despite the fact they were flying over a war zone. Another warning was sent and again no response. At this time, everyone including the ship’s captain, were remembering what had happened to the USS Stark The Captain was undoubtably thinking about the lost career of the Start’s captain and gave the order to fire.
The Airliner was hit by two SM-2 Standard missiles and torn to pieces. All 300 people aboard died.The Iranian regime was furious and in full vengeance mode. President Reagan offered regrets but did not apologize. All sorts of conspiracy theories arose, including that it was a deliberate act to end the Iran-Iraq war. This theory was fortified by the fact that the Vincennes CO was given the legion of merit for his service during this time, giving credence to then idea it was intentional. Of course the ever suspicious Iranians never believed it was an accident. Not surprising in that Iranians seldom believe each other, let alone foreigners, and usually speak in such terms as to bewilder any person trying to get at the truth. Even the Arabs believe the Iranians speak with forked tongue.
In fact the truth was less palatable. The crew of the Vincennes was poorly trained on the use of their sophisticated equipment, there was confusion in the operations room, the Stark induced stress, and less than steady control of events by the Captain all contributed to the tragedy. The two old frigates escorting the Vincennes using their old radar had correctly identified the aircraft but the Captain of the Vincennes did not ask for their input.
The fellow US naval officers of the Vincennes captain subsequently apparently shunned him, and despite his medal, his career duly flickered out. No stars for the captain. The shutdown was a result of a comedy, a tragic comedy of errors on both American and Iranian sides.
BUT WAIT. There is much more to the story.
Five months later Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Scotland killing 270 people. For years it was assumed that it was the work of the Libyan nutcase Gaddafi, which in terms of execution it was …but it was instigated and paid for by Khomeni’s regime. Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur, was the Iranian agent who paid the Libyans to do the job. But Iran was not finished. On March 10, 1989 the USS Vincennes Captains wife driving her SUV near San Diego narrowly escaped death when her car was torn apart by a bomb. Note Similar in scope to the attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie.
So these are the people the current group of amateurs at the State Department are seeking to reach a new and improved JCPOA…the Iranian Nuclear deal, so earnestly appealed for by Biden. They see us as weak beggars for a piece of paper not worth the price of a recycled sheet. Why this unstable American regime seeks this piece of useless paper eludes me and most others who understand the culture of Iran, and the nature of appeasement. These incidents are rarely recalled because to do so would bring out the lack of Iranian trustworthiness and futility of any agreement with Iran.