US Defense Secretary James Mattis repeats anti-Iran allegations during the second day of his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Known as “Mad Dog,” the 66-year retired general held talks with members of the Saudi royal family during his second day in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday to relay US President Donald Trump’s praise for the kingdom.
“It’s good to be back,” he told Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at al-Yamama Palace.
Mattis, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, also met with the Saudi defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after the king.
“It is in our interest to see a strong Saudi Arabia,” he told the Saudi military chief, referencing the country’s “military security services and secret services.”
He further asserted that his presence in Saudi Arabia could pave the way for a Trump visit to the monarchy, a long-time US ally in the Middle East.
“What we can do here today could actually open the door possibly to bringing our president to Saudi Arabia,” Mattis said.
Mattis also repeated the Trump administration’s claims that Tehran aims to “destabilize” the region.
This is while Washington has itself been a staunch supporter of “Takfiri-Wahhabi terrorists,” according to Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan.
Mattis further asserted that the United States aimed to continue its military presence in the Middle East.
“And now that we have the blessing of our leadership, that it’s important we actually do something with it. We actually do something as we reinforce Saudi Arabia’s resistance to Iran’s mischief, and make you more effective with your military, as we work together as partners. We are not leaving this region,” said the Pentagon chief.
Meanwhile in the US capital, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson praised Riyadh for remaining a US ally this long.
“I am pleased to be here today to reaffirm the very strong partnership that exists between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have a long relationship with Saudi Arabia that extends over 80 years and our support for a strong and steady partner on economic cooperation remains as firm as ever.”
An unnamed US defense official speaking to Reuters said Mattis was in Saudi to see “what are their priorities.”
The Trump administration’s anti-Iran rhetoric in part reflects the New York businessman’s long-held grudge for former President Barack Obama, who threw his support behind talks between Iran and the world powers, which finally yielded a nuclear deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015.
The successful outcome of Iran talks then made Saudi Arabia feel “marginalized,” according to the US official.
With the possibly accidental shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by pro-Russia militants in Ukraine, the entire world has looked on with horror. But shooting down passenger planes, while uncommon, is not unprecedented. The United States itself was once responsible for shooting down a civilian airliner with 290 people on board — including 66 children.
The tragedy took place 26 years ago and is not often discussed in the United States or taught in many Americanschools. But the shootdown of an Iranian Airbus A300 over the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988 is likely to receive renewed attention over the coming days as investigators and the public struggle to understand how a routine commercial flight like Malaysia Airlines MH17 could be coldly blasted from the sky, killing almost 300 people with one shot.
Iran Air Flight IR655 flew a routine commercial route starting in Tehran, Iran’s capital, with a stopover in Bandar Abbas, a southern Iranian city of more than 400,000 on the northeastern coast of the Persian Gulf. Flight 655 was on what should have been a 28-minute flight to its final destination in Dubai, the second-largest city in the United Arab Emirates, when disaster struck.
The era was the waning days of the bloody, Iran-Iraq War, which ended just 17 days later with a cease fire deal after eight grueling years of fighting that, by some estimates, claimed a staggering one million lives on both sides.
While then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein started that war, the United States supported and covertly aided Iraq in the conflict. The U.S. stationed naval vessels in the Persian Gulf to protect oil shipping routes, which frequently came under attack from both sides — the war saw 520 attacks on oil tankers from other countries.
Iran Air 655 took off from Bandar Abbas at 10:17 am, 27 minutes behind schedule. The Iran Air Airbus A300 immediately appeared on the radar of the U.S.S. Vincennes, a United States warship that was sailing in Iranian waters, chasing down Iranian gunboats that had just attacked it.
Two minutes later, the Vincennes, with Commander William C. Rogers III at the helm, started sending out warnings over both military and civilian distress frequencies. For some reason, according to a subsequent U.S. investigation, the Vincennes mistook the Iran Air Airbus, which was climbing to 14,000 feet for the short flight, for an Iranian military attack jet that was descending straight at it.
At 10:24 am, Rogers ordered the Vincennes to fire two missiles at the civilian airliner, thinking it was a attacking warplane. At least one of the missiles slammed into Iran Air Flight 655 just seven minutes into its flight, blowing the plane out of the sky and sending it crashing in a fireball into the waters of the Gulf.
All 290 on board were killed.
Though the “black box” from Iran Air Flight IR655 was lost in the Persian Gulf, recordings from the Vincennes showed that the plane sent a “squawk” signals to the American ship identifying itself as a civilian plane. But the crew somehow interpreted the signals as military.
Eight years later, the U.S. agreed to pay Iran $61.8 million, or $213,103 for each passenger on board Flight 655, as compensation to the families of the Iran Air victims. But the United States never issued an apology or took responsibility for shooting down the commercial passenger jet.
The Iranian government became convinced that the U.S. shot down Iran AirFlight IR655 deliberately, as a signal that it now openly sided with Iraq in the war. To the present day, the shootdown of Iran Air 655, though rarely mentioned in U.S. accounts of diplomacy with Iran, serves as a major reason why the Iranian government does not fully trust the United States.