The time the U.S. shot down an airliner

Relatives of victims of the Iranian Airbus shot down by the US Navy cruiser USS Vincennes in 1988 over the Persian Gulf waters stand under a painting depicting the scene during a ceremony marking 03 July 2003 in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the 15th anniversary of the downing of the plane. The US said the US Navy ship shot the plane by mistake. The Iranian airliner was en route to Dubai with 290 passengers on board, all killed in the crash. Photo: Behrouz Mehri, AFP/Getty Images.
In the aftermath of the downing of a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine yesterday, news organizations were quick to reference Korean Airlines Flight 007, shot down by a then-Soviet Union fighter jet over disputed land in September 1983.

Not mentioned quite as often, however, was the time the United States shot down a commercial jetliner.

The U.S. military brought down Iran Air Flight 655 in July 1988. Two-hundred-and-ninety innocent people died.

While on a mission in support of Saddam Hussein, the USS Vincennes exchanged fire with smaller Iranian gunboats. In the heat of the battle, the Vincennes apparently mistook an Airbus A300 for an Iranian fighter jet.

The Washington Post, in its 25th anniversary last year, theorized that the disaster helped end the Iran-Iraq war because Iran thought — and apparently still thinks — that it wasn’t an accident.

That belief, along with Iraq’s increased use of chemical weapons against Iran, led Tehran to accept a United Nations cease-fire two months later. But it also helped cement a view in Iran, still common among hard-liners in the government, that the United States is absolutely committed to the destruction of the Islamic Republic and will stop at almost nothing to accomplish this. It is, as Time’s Michael Crowley points out in an important piece, one of several reasons that Iran has a hard time believing it can trust the United States to ever stop short of its complete destruction.