US Air Force F-15 was in the area of an Iranian passenger jet, but Iran accused Israel anyway.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Iranian news outlets on Thursday reported several passengers were injured when pilots of an Iranian airliner alleged they had to take evasive action to avoid an Israeli fighter jet in the skies over the Syrian capital city Damascus.
The F-15 turned out to belong to the U.S. Air Force and was a safe distance away.
“Israeli fighter jet flies close to Iranian Mahan airlines passenger plane over Damascus, makes it reduce altitude,” Iran’s state-run Press TV said in a tweet.
The Iranian news agency IRIB also falsely claimed the fighter jet was Israeli, posting an unconfirmed video from a passenger showing passengers apparently injured when the Mahan pilots dove the plane.
The erroneous Iranian reports were quoted by Reuters, with the initial headline on the New York Times website saying, “Israeli fighter jets comes close to Iranian passenger plane.” Reuters and the Iranian news agencies later corrected the stories to say it was an American F-15 fighter jet involved.
A spokesman for the U.S. armed forces Central Command confirmed that an American fighter plane that was already in the vicinity was a kilometer away from the Iranian airliner.
“A U.S. F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of the CJTF-OIR At Tanf garrison in Syria conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters from the airliner this evening,” Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement issued on CENTCOM’s website.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft. The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards,” Urban said.
The At Tanf U.S. military base is located east of Damascus and was initially deployed in 2016 as part of the American-led intervention in the Syrian civil war. Some 200 American soldiers were stationed there, supporting Syrian rebel fighters against Islamic State terrorists and the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad.