The shooting down of the Iranian passenger Airbus by the United States warship, Vincennes, is a grim tragedy that has brought into focus the different perils to which air travel is exposed in this tension ridden world. Whereas the irreparable loss of 290 precious lives, including 66 children, has been condemned by both friends and foes of America, it is important that the gruesome tragedy should not be allowed to develop into a violent confrontation or revengeful retaliation. The expression of anger by the Iranian government and the people is perfectly legitimate but Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for an all-out war against America and its allies and his threat to avenge the disaster “in the same blood splattered sky over the Persian Gulf,” is rather unfortunate.

While condemning what he termed as “tragic error”, the U.N. Secretary General rightly implored for “the greatest restraint in these difficult moments for the peace and security of the region”. His concern for peace and security is shared by every right thinking person because violent retaliation inevitably leads to still greater violence. History teaches us that no problem has ever been solved by violence. One thoughtless action can engulf the entire world into an all-consuming conflagration. In this moment of tension and anger, reason should not be lost sight of.

The U.S. government should own the mistake and make suitable amends for all the human and material loss. It should tender an unqualified apology and refrain from underplaying the tragedy by describing it as an “understandable accident”. The military people have made a grievous error and they must be made to suffer proportionate penalty. The U.S. government must also realize that hastily labeling other nations as “terrorists” for similar errors reflects neither maturity nor does it provide any diplomatic gain. It, in fact, leaves a trail of bitterness that further extends the area of misunderstanding and mistrust.

It must be realized that Iran is deeply hurt. Though nothing can even remotely recompense the loss of human lives, it is imperative that Iran’s feelings need to be fully assuaged by paying adequate compensation. And Iran, on its part, must also not assume unreasonable postures. It should not make demands that America, in the current context of her international commitments, may find totally unacceptable. For instance, asking America to withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf will amount to telling her to abandon all her friends as well as give up her legitimate interests in the region. Such a demand will serve no purpose. Rather it will put international peace in jeopardy.

Similarly, revengeful killing of the helpless hostages would make matters still worse and prove counterproductive. Their life is already a living hell. They have been subjected to a prolonged spell of mental and physical torture for no fault of their own. They are as innocent as the victims of the Airbus tragedy. Adding to human misery won’t lead anyone anywhere. Instead, definite steps should be taken to avoid recurrence of such disasters. A thorough investigation by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) into the catastrophe will go a long way in making civil air transportation safe. It will also help to somewhat satisfy Iran and put an end to the UN savory controversies. Preventing repetition of the tragedy should be the first priority. This alone would be the most befitting homage that can be paid to the ill starred victims. Both Reagan and Khomeini would do well to appreciate this elementary logic.


Article extracted from this publication >> July 8, 1988