[This is the headline over an article just published on the Iranian FARS News Agency website. It reads in part:]
On July 3, 1988, an Iranian aircraft registered on the radar screen of the USS Vincennes. The US Navy officers on the bridge identified the approaching aircraft as an Iranian Air Force F-14 Tomcat. Though they would later claim that they tried to reach the aircraft on military and civilian frequencies, they failed to try air traffic control, which would have probably cleared the air. Instead, as the aircraft drew nearer, the Americans fired two guided missiles at their target: a civilian Airbus A300B2, killing 290 civilians, including 66 children, en route to Dubai.
Twenty-five years ago, the Iran-Iraq war was well into its eighth bloody year. Then, as now, Iran was considered the foe; and Iraq, the ally. The US government never published a complete report of the investigation and continued to assert that the crew of the USS Vincennes mistakenly identified the aircraft as a fighter jet and acted in self defense. While it expressed its regrets, the United States failed to condemn what happened and never apologized to the Iranian people. The Iranian government asked several times -- rhetorically -- how a guided missile cruiser, such as the USS Vincennes, equipped with the latest in electronic technology, was unable to distinguish a slowly ascending Airbus from a much smaller fighter jet. After Iran sued the United States in the International Court of Justice, the Americans agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation to the victims' families. However, it did not escape any Iranian that the United States extracted $1.7 billion, a sum 30 times greater, from Libya as compensation for the victims of the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, which took place the same year. (...)
In fact, for many Iranians, the shooting down of IR655 reminded them of how defenseless they were in their own region and in their own waters and airspace. The military has capitalized on this. Since the end of war with Iraq, Iran's military leadership operates on the presumption that it is incapable of winning a conventional war against a superpower. It also assumes that should such a conflict occur, Iran should not expect any sympathy or help from the international community. The silence over IR655, though convenient at the time for many US allies, continues to haunt many Iranians. Predictably, it has been used by state media to convince segments of the public that Iran stands to gain little or no justice from engaging with the rest of the world. Many Iranian hardliners continue to use the tragedy to argue for a buildup and a militarily powerful Iran. They also use it to underscore the West's dual standards, should anyone forget.
Although no one speaks of IR655 in the United States, it poses a simple and important question about engagement in Iran to almost anyone who thinks of Iran. What does the United States want? A democratic Iran and a government that capitulates to it, or the one that serves its interests? Will the United States again sacrifice Iranian lives to force the Iranian government to accept a short-term political order?
For those with a longer memory span, it's difficult to dismiss some of these concerns particularly when you recall that the reckless behavior of the USS Vincennes commanding officer earned him the Legion of Merits, "a military decoration of the United States armed forces that is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements." For many Iranians, this is utterly incomprehensible.
[A typical formulation of the thesis that Pan Am 103 was destroyed in retaliation for the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus can be read here.]