Over the weekend, President Trump responded to Iranian threats of dire consequences for the splattering of the elegant and urbane Iranian thug Qasem Soleimani over about 500 square feet of Baghdad highway. The threat, naturally delivered by Twitter, cause the left to pounce and declare Trump had proclaimed in advance his intent to commit war crimes but the central feature of it was the promise to obliterate one Iranian target for each of the Americans held hostage for 444 days in Tehran in 1979-1981.
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Just a short while ago, Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani tweeted a response that may must be an attempt to troll the United States using amazingly bad taste or it might just be a Twitter FOAD admission to one of the major political crimes of the last half of the 20th Century.
Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655
Never threaten the Iranian nation.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 6, 2020
On July 3, 1988 the Aegis-class cruiser USS Vincennes was on patrol in the Persian Gulf. The whole area was extraordinarily dangerous to anyone who let their drop down for a moment. In May 1987, shortly before EARNEST WILL kicked off, the USS Stark, a Perry-class frigate, was hit by an Exocet missile fired from an Iraqi Mirage and 37 US sailors were killed. This was during a furious period of the Iran-Iraq war when Iran was targeting neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf and the military undertook Operation EARNEST WILL to protect that shipping. The operation led to direct conflict with Iranian forces that climaxed in Operation PRAYING MANTIS in April 1988 that essentially destroyed Iran’s navy. All of this is to highlight the fact that the Ticonderoga was in a crowded area, both sea and air lanes, and one in which attackers routinely blended into regular traffic until time to attack.
An Iran Air Airbus 300, flight 655, took off from Bandar Abbas airport enroute to Dubai. At some point the Vincennes Combat Information Center identified the Airbus as an Iranian F-14. Attempts to contact it on emergency frequencies were unsuccessful. The Vincennes interpreted this as a hostile aircraft and shot it down. 290 persons died in the shootdown.
That gets us to the number 290 and the hashtag #IR655, the body count and the call sign of aircraft.
Now to the threat or the admission of guilt.
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, enroute to JFK International in New York from Frankfurt/Main, Germany exploded some 31,000 feet above Lockerbie, Scotland. 259 people died. Two Libyan intelligence operatives were eventually tried. One was acquitted. The other was released in 2009 after serving nine years of a life sentence.
The twist in the story is that parts of the US Intelligence Community have long believed that the Libyans were acting as agents of the Iranian government and the downing of PanAm 103 was direct retaliation for the Iran Air 655 shoot-down. In 2014, an Iranian defector brought out the same story:
The Lockerbie bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by a Syrian-based terrorist group, a former Iranian intelligence officer has admitted.
Abolghassem Mesbahi, a defector to Germany, said Pan Am flight 103 was downed in 1988 in retaliation for a US Navy strike on an Iranian commercial jet six months earlier, in which 290 people died.
He claims the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was Iran’s Supreme Leader, ordered the bombing “to copy exactly what happened to the Iranian Airbus”.
Previously unseen evidence gathered for the aborted appeal hearing of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing, supports Mr Mesbahi’s claim and suggests that the bombers belonged to the extremist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC).
Documents obtained by Al Jazeera television for a documentary called Lockerbie: What Really Happened? name key individuals said to be involved in the bombing, including the alleged bomb-maker, the alleged mastermind and the man who may have put the bomb on the doomed Boeing 747.
The new evidence not only casts new doubt on the conviction of Megrahi, but adds weight to previous claims that the truth about the bombing was covered up by Britain and the US because they did not want to antagonise Syria, a key power on the doorstep of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The clear implication of Rouhani’s tweet is that Iran will always revenge its losses. The question is whether this was just Rouhani using the PanAm 103 attack as metaphor knowing that people would know the implication…or did he just admit to the world that Iran was behind that terror attack?