It has been just over five months since Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet killing 176 people after mistaking it for an attacking aircraft. Yesterday, Iran’s Navy had another incident with a missile during a military training exercise. An Iranian ship fired an anti-ship missile at a floating target. But instead of hitting the unmanned target, the missile hit the Iranian support ship which was deploying the targets, killing 19 Iranian sailors an injuring more than a dozen more.
The friendly fire incident involving the Konarak vessel occurred on Sunday afternoon near Bandar-e Jask, off the southern coast of the Islamic republic, it said on its website.
One report said the vessel had sunk after being hit by a missile fired by another Iranian warship.
“The vessel was hit after moving a practice target to its destination and not creating enough distance between itself and the target,” state television said on its website.
The first report indicated that one sailor was killed but that was updated today:
“On Sunday afternoon, during an exercise by a number of the navy’s vessels in Jask and Chabahar waters, the Konarak light support vessel had an accident,” the army said in the statement posted to its website on Monday. “The number of this accident’s martyrs is 19 and 15 have also been injured,” it added…
Iranian media rarely report on mishaps during exercises, signaling the severity of the incident.
CNN reports that the initial reports about a friendly fire incident were quickly retracted:
State media initially said that the servicemen were killed in a “misguided missile attack” but later dropped references to the nature of the incident, warning people not to “speculate” about it.
Initial reports claimed the Konarak had been sunk but that wasn’t true. It was later towed into port, but the as you can see in this video clip, it suffered severe damage (the photo above shows what it looked like before the missile strike):
Iranian state media have put out a video allegedly showing the Iranian navy vessel hit by friendly fire in which 19 sailors have been killed and 15 injured. pic.twitter.com/rPwnyWOfPy
— Ali Arouzi (@aliarouzi) May 11, 2020
What was left of the Konarak was towed back to port:
Latest photos of Iranian vessel Konarak which was hit by Iranian frigate Jamaran. As we see at the photos, all superstructure is gone. pic.twitter.com/Z5O6zZw5g3
— Naval News (@navalnewsnet) May 11, 2020
When the Ukranian jet was shot down, Iran spent 3 days denying that a missile had been involved at all even though it was clear they must have known what happened almost immediately.
The other thing you may recall about how the downing of the Ukrainian jet was reported at the time, was that many US commentators, news outlets and some presidential candidates tried hard to blame President Trump. It’s a little harder to do that in this case but many of the stories about the accident highlight recent tensions with the United States.
There are tensions with Iran, because it has once again been harassing U.S. ships in the area, but that doesn’t make the U.S. responsible for this deadly accident.
Update: The NY Times’ story on this incident has been updated and contains some good quotes.
“This mistake appears to be beyond sloppy,” said Afshon Ostovar, assistant professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif. “There was either miscommunication or someone completely failed to follow protocols. Perhaps it was a combination of both.”
And that, Mr. Ostovar said, exposes the military’s inexperience and lack of professionalism. “However powerful it believes itself to be, it continues to make costly fundamental mistakes,” he said…
“Iranian armed forces have a systemic problem with coordination and command and control, whether it’s air defense or naval warfare, whether it’s the Revolutionary Guards or the army,” said Farzin Nadimi, an expert on Iranian military and naval operations in the Persian Gulf with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
They keep trying to show themselves capable of challenging the United States and this strike in particular was probably meant to send a signal about their lethal ship-to-ship missiles. But this failure once again demonstrates that the greatest threat they present is that they will kill a bunch of people by accident.