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A Near-Miss Over Syria and Our Illegal Military Presence

All U.S. forces should be withdrawn as soon as possible before something worse happens.

Two Air Force F-22 Raptors fly over Syria, Feb. 2, 2018, while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott

There was a dangerous incident on Thursday over Syria involving two U.S. jets and an Iranian passenger plane bound for Beirut:

An Iranian passenger plane en route from Iran to Beirut swerved and dropped abruptly to avoid two fighter jets, injuring several passengers before landing in Beirut, Iranian and Lebanese television stations reported on Thursday evening.

Videos broadcast by Iranian and pro-Iran Lebanese media, which said the footage was taken by passengers, showed one of the fighter jets flying alongside the passenger plane, operated by Mahan Air, a privately owned Iranian airline.

Passengers then screamed as sudden turbulence seized the plane. In the aftermath, one video showed a passenger with his face and head bloodied, as well as a man lying down, apparently unconscious, while someone tended to him. Oxygen masks dangled overhead.

Fortunately, the incident did not result in loss of life, but it should never have happened. We can be grateful that the incident resulted in a near-miss rather than a collision or a crash, but why on earth are American jets getting so close to an Iranian civilian plane that they cause the pilot to swerve and dive? It is doubtful that the pilot took such drastic action without having good reason to do so. Video from one of the passengers was shared on social media:

Centcom confirmed that U.S. jets were involved, and claimed that they were conducting a routine patrol in connection with the al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria. This latest incident is another reminder that the U.S. military presence in Syria is unauthorized and illegal. U.S. jets have no business operating in Syrian airspace, and U.S. troops have no business being on Syrian territory. The jets were operating illegally to safeguard an illegal base, and in the process they nearly caused a terrible accident. U.S. jets shouldn’t be interfering with civilian flights over Syria. They shouldn’t be there at all. Just imagine how the U.S. would respond if the positions were reversed and a U.S. passenger plane were harassed in a similar fashion by fighters from a hostile government in another country’s airspace. This incident is bound to increase tensions between Iran and the U.S., which were already quite high following the acts of war that been carried out inside Iran in recent weeks.

Since the jets were there to protect the al-Tanf base, it is worth remembering how useless the al-Tanf base is as a military outpost. It is supposedly there to block the so-called “land bridge,” but Iran can still send men and supplies into Syria by air. Even if the mission served some U.S. interest, this base can’t achieve it. The base serves no purpose except to occupy Syrian territory on a mission that Congress has never authorized. All U.S. forces in Syria should be withdrawn as soon as possible before something worse happens.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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