Iran’s fears over a possible Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities in 2008 led to a series of air defense mishaps, including firing on a civilian airliner and one of its military aircraft, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing classified American intelligence reports.
“Iranian air defense units have taken inappropriate actions dozens of times, including firing antiaircraft artillery and scrambling aircraft against unidentified or misidentified targets,” a Pentagon intelligence 2008 report described by the New York Times as “heavily classified” said.
According to the report, the civilian planes were fired on by surface-to-air missiles and antiaircraft batteries and intercepted by Iranian fighter jets. The Iranian military’s communications were so inadequate and its training deficiencies so significant that “misidentification of aircraft will continue,” it said.
In September 2007, Israeli aircraft bombed a nuclear reactor that was under construction in northeast Syria.
Amid growing concern in Israel and the U.S. over Iran’s nuclear program, Israel conducted a major air exercise in 2008 over the Mediterranean that appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
The classified Pentagon document titled ‘Operational Mishaps by Air Defense Units’ described Iranian air defense units as edgy, “fearing that an enemy aircraft might try to mimic the flight profile of a civilian airliner.”
The report added that the combination of heightened vigilance and poor command and control led to series of mistakes.
The New York Times cited the report as saying that a Revolutionary Guards air defense unit fired a TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile at a civilian airliner in June 2007. In May 2008, an antiaircraft battery fired on an Iranian reconnaissance drone and a civilian airliner. That same month, an antiaircraft battery fired on an Iranian F-14 fighter jet.
In June 2008, soon after the Israeli air exercise, Iranian air defense units fired at two more civilian aircraft. In one instance, an Iranian F-4 fighter scrambled to intercept an Iraqi Airways flight from Baghdad to Tehran to visually inspect the passenger plane. The Iraqi Airways plane was not harmed, according to the report.
Less than two weeks after Israeli warplanes practiced over the Mediterranean in June 2008, the commander of the Iranian Air Force ordered fighter units to “conduct daily air-to-ground attack training at firing ranges resembling the Israeli city of Haifa and the Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona,” the classified Pentagon report said.