Wednesday , 23 September 2020

Iran accuses US fighter aircraft of harassing Iranian airliner over eastern Syria

Al-Monitor – Two US fighter aircraft made an “aggressive” close pass on an Iranian passenger flight over Syria today, Iran’s state media reported.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting originally said Mahan Air flight 1152 was harassed by Israeli aircraft as the flight was en route to Beirut, Lebanon.

The broadcaster later quoted the Mahan Air pilot as saying the two fighter aircraft identified themselves as American. SANA, Syria’s state-controlled news agency, said the flight was intercepted in the vicinity of the al-Tanf base, a remote US military outpost on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq.

Footage said to have been taken by passengers aboard the flight appeared to show a fighter jet outside the aircraft window that resembled an F-15, used by both the United States and Israel over Syria’s airspace.

A spokesperson for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State did not immediately return a request for comment.

The passengers arrived in Beirut, some with minor injuries, an airport official told Reuters.

The United States sanctioned Mahan Airlines last year, accusing the company of working with the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to arm fighters in Syria and Yemen. The US first sanctioned Mahan in 2011, alleging its aircraft had ferried IRGC personnel, weapons, and funds.

Midair encounters are common in the crowded airspace over Syria’s civil war. The US military has frequently accused Russian pilots of intercepting American aircraft.

Mahan Air regularly flies routes from Tehran to Beirut via eastern Syria’s airspace, near the US-controlled 55-kilometer military deconfliction zone around the al-Tanf base. 

The Pentagon has allowed Israeli fighter aircraft to use US air corridors along the Jordanian border and over the al-Tanf base in order to confuse the Syrian government’s radar systems, a US official told Al-Monitor last month.

Israel has hit hundreds of Iran-linked targets with precision airstrikes in Syria in recent years. Washington’s top Syria envoy said last year that the United States was supporting those efforts.

The Pentagon says the remote al-Tanf outpost is there to facilitate the multinational fight against IS, but the extremists have largely been cleared from the area and the base has been used to collect signals intelligence on Iran-linked organizations in Syria, Al-Monitor previously reported.

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