Iran has owned up in the face of the enormity of the tragedy. Saturday’s admission that it was responsible for shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which killed 176 people on board, is welcome though it ought to have come sooner. Not the least in view of the initially contrived alibi that attributed the disaster to mechanical problems. That specious explanation by the moderate President, Hassani Rouhani’s government, under the overarching authority of the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had served to deepen suspicions.

The world in general remained far from convinced. Questions are bound to linger as to why Tehran took 72 hours ~ the USmanufactured Boeing was reduced to a ball of fire last Wednesday ~ to react. The admission of responsibility comes after Iran realised that it could not afford to prolong the obfuscation.

Within 24 hours of the catastrophe, video and other evidence had emerged, clearly indicating that the airliner was hit by a ground-to-air missile, yet Iranian spokesmen and diplomats persisted with their implausible denials. Suffice it to register that the credibility of the regime ~ with nuclear ambitions ~ has suffered a severe jolt and it shall not be easy to shore up its image anytime soon. President Rouhani’s decision to clear the air is otherwise commendable.

He has expressed “deep regrets” for a “disastrous mistake”. It will nonetheless be hard to escape the conclusion that the “human error” excuse was deliberate. The regime would perhaps have reaped greater goodwill were it not for the delay in informing the world that it was Iran’s handiwork. The government ultimately had no choice. Its initial instinct was to attempt a cover-up, but it didn’t work. The culpability of Iran, which was suspected on the day of the crash, could not be airbrushed any longer.

The electronic evidence was damning enough. The consequences of the tragedy could be farreaching in terms of credibility ~ both at home and the world ~ and standing of the regime. The precise circumstances must be established. Why was the departure of the Tehran-Kiev flight delayed by an hour? Not wholly unrelated is the second question ~ Why was the Ukrainian plane allowed to take off only hours after Iran attacked US military bases in Iraq and was anticipating a violent US response?

How did military commanders fail to distinguish between the “radar signatures” of a large passenger airliner and an enemy missile? The timeline would reaffirm that the crash has been the fallout of the US drone attack that killed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards leader, General Qassem Suleimani, in Baghdad. That killing has triggered the latest crisis. In many respects, Iran has overreached, strategically, militarily and politically. It is suffering enormous human and economic stress.

This might be a good moment to pause and reconsider what it is trying to achieve. So too must the likes of Donald Trump and the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. US-Iranian relations have reached a perilous juncture, and not merely owing to matters nuclear. As always, the innocent are paying with their lives.