Poor Malaysians, they seem so unlucky with their airline this year. Still, if it had not been for the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the struggle for Eastern Europe, this disaster would not have been so important. Still, not all airline disasters are equal. Let us look at a few cases when commercial civilian airliners have been shot down by military forces of governments:
1973: A Libyan Airlines Boeing 727-200 plane was shot down by Israeli fighters in Egypt’s Sinai Desert on 21 February, 1973. It was believed that the pilots got lost due to bad weather and equipment failure over northern Egypt, resulting in the plane entering Israeli-controlled airspace over the Sinai desert. Israeli fighter jets shot down the plane. Out of 113 people on board, only five, including the co-pilot, survived.
So, an Arab airliner shot down by Israel over occupied Arab land.
1983: A Korean Air flight was brought down by the USSR on 1 September 1983. The Boeing 747 civilian airliner from New York to Seoul was shot down by a Soviet jet just west of the Russian island of Sakhalin killing all 269 passengers and crew, including US congressman Larry McDonald. The Russians believed it was a US military surveillance plane and fired tracer rockets as a warning but it did not respond, the Soviet fighter pilot later said. US president, Ronald Reagan called the shoot down “a massacre“.
So, shot down over Soviet/Russian territory.
1988: On 3 July 1988 the US warship USS Vincennes, in the Persian Gulf, fired a surface-to-air missile to shoot down Iran Air flight 655 travelling from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Dubai. All 290 passengers, mostly Iranians on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and all the crew were killed. US Navy officials later said the Vincennes’ crew believed they were firing at an Iranian F14 jet fighter, claiming the plane was off the ‘usual’ commercial route and did not respond to requests to change course. Iran, perhaps echoing Ronald Reagan, called it “a barbaric massacre“.
So, an Iranian airliner shot down by a U.S. navy ship. Not over the Gulf of Mexico, nor within sight of Manhattan. In the ‘Persian’ Gulf, right in Iran’s own backyard.
2001: Ukrainian military shot down a Russian passenger jet containing 78 people on 4 October 2001 as it flew over the Black Sea travelling from Tel Aviv in Israel to Novosibirsk in Russia. Russian crash investigators concluded the Tu-154 was hit by a Ukrainian ground-to-air missile despite the fact it was on its flight plan on an international airway which did not fall under any restrictions imposed by Ukraine. It exploded in mid-air, sparking speculation it was downed accidentally by Ukranian military on exercises in Crimea.
So is it a crime to shoot down a civilian airliner? You may be shocked to find out that it depends, but you shouldn’t. Apparently it mainly all depends on two factors: (1) Who does the shooting; (2) Who is shot down.
Generally third world airliners, when shot down by anyone but especially by Western missiles, are not much lamented or compensated. The Iran Air 655 victims were ignored in the West. If it had been an Iranian missile shooting down a Western airliners, Tehran would have been invaded, with full UN approval. Iran would have been blackmailed and forced to pay extortion in billions of dollars in compensation for the Western victims, who tend to be much more valuable as victims than others are. No such compensation was offered or paid, as far as I know, for Iran Air 655 victims or the Libyan victims.
Third world victims are always deemed to be worth less than Western victims. That is a fact; too bad you can’t take it to the bank, though. But I admit it is sometimes a self-made valuation suggested by unrepresentative and repressive governments.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum