Israel Calls for More Iran Sanctions as Protests Rock Tehran over Downed Airliner

Protestors in the region are taking on Iran’s leaders and malign influence.
Illustrative official meeting in Iran. Photo Courtesy of UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The Iran crisis took another twist over the weekend, as protests erupted in the Iranian capital of Tehran and elsewhere against the regime after it was confirmed Iran accidentally shot down a civilian airliner in Iran, killing all 176 passengers on board. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed solidarity with the protestors, while calling for more sanctions on Iran due to the regime’s malignant activity, including advancing their nuclear program.

The latest protests in Iran came after the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces announced in a statement that they accidentally shot down a Ukrainian Boeing 737 carrying mostly Iranian passengers, thinking it was a hostile object, according to the Fars News Agency. The report noted Iran at the time was concerned about a counterstrike from the United States after Iran launched missiles at US military bases in retaliation for the US killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The death of Soleimani—the leader of the Iranian Qods Force that was behind attacks around the world—followed months of escalating tensions and multiple Iranian attacks against the US and its allies.

After Iran’s belated admission of guilt, BBC reporter Hadi Nili posted to Twitter on Saturday that protests were happening in multiple cities, and at least one slogan wasn’t friendly to the regime or Soleimani. Nili tweeted, “chants heard on Tehran streets: ‘Soleimani was a murderer, his Leader is too.’”

One day later, on Sunday, the Iranian protests unexpectedly made a point of not protesting the US and Israel—against whom Iranians have infamously chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”—as video was posted to Twitter showing demonstrators walking around giant US and Israeli flags.

One of those posting the video was Israeli Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Ofir Gendelman, who tweeted, “Iranian demonstrators refused today to trample on American and Israeli flags. The Iranian regime’s policy of hatred and terrorism is rejected by Iranians themselves.”

Iranians weren’t the only ones upset about Iran’s downing of the civilian plane and the subsequent failure to own up to the tragic error. Israel was too.

Netanyahu, speaking in comments released by his office, on Sunday said, “Iran lied. Just as they lied about their secret nuclear program, they are lying now about the downing of the Ukrainian aircraft. They knew from the start that they had downed it. They knew that it was an unintentional downing, but they lied intentionally. They deceived the entire world.

“This is completely contrary to how a civilized country should act and we send our condolences to the victims of Iran’s deception and negligence.”

The Israeli leader went on to express support for the Iranian protestors. “I note the courage of the Iranian people who are again demonstrating in the streets against this regime,” he said. “They deserve freedom, liberty and the ability to live in security and peace, all of which the regime denies them,”

Netanyahu also commended US President Donald Trump for “imposing new and very harsh sanctions against this Iranian regime. I must say that this was also done close to the Iranian decision to accelerate uranium enrichment.

“I call on Britain, France and Germany to join the American effort. They need to go to the [United Nations] Security Council, and there they need to activate the sanctions that have been decided upon. I would like to reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

The Iran protests might just create a new diplomatic crisis that leads to new sanctions for Iran. US President Trump on Sunday warned the Iranian regime on Twitter not to harm the protestors: “To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!”

On Sunday, Nili separately tweeted a video from @vahid showing blood on the ground after a plain clothes person reportedly opened fire in Tehran.

An American response is not the only concern for Iran—their relationship with the United Kingdom is on shaky ground too thanks to their response during the protests. On Saturday, British Ambassador to Iran Rob Macaire was arrested by the Iranians. The British diplomat took to Twitter in a series of posts to clarify the circumstances of the incident.

“Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy. Normal to want to pay respects- some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting,” Macaire tweeted, following up with “detained half an hour after leaving the area. Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was outraged at the Iranian action. “The arrest of our Ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” Raab said in a statement published to the UK government website. “The Iranian government is at a cross-roads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to deescalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards.”

The Iranians have already been hit with crippling sanctions by the Americans due to their malign actions, after Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal last year. In response, Iran in recent months has repeatedly lashed out—rolling back restrictions on their nuclear plan in violation of the deal, as well as launching attacks on the oil industry and the US. Iran has said their escalated nuclear activity is in response to Europe’s failure to economically counteract the US sanctions.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, January 12, 2020)

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