For the second time this year, Iran appears to have fired a missile at the wrong target with deadly consequences, raising questions about its ability to control its weapons and increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf.
On Sunday, a missile from an Iranian Navy frigate struck another Iranian naval vessel during a military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, killing at least 19 sailors and wounding 15, the navy said.
In January, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a Ukrainian Airlines passenger plane with two missiles, killing 176 passengers and crew members. Iran blamed human error for that shootdown.
Official details of the naval accident were scant Monday, and it was not immediately clear whether it was the result of human error or faulty equipment.
But once again, an Iranian missile had gone astray and taken with it Iranian lives.
“This mistake appears to be beyond sloppy,” said Afshon Ostovar, assistant professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California. “There was either miscommunication or someone completely failed to follow protocols. Perhaps it was a combination of both.”
And that, Ostovar said, exposes the military’s inexperience and lack of professionalism. “However powerful it believes itself to be, it continues to make costly fundamental mistakes,” he said.
Four people with knowledge of the accident told The New York Times that the Jamaran, a frigate that is one of the prides of the Iranian fleet, had fired a missile that struck the Konarak, a missile boat, on Sunday.
By Tuesday morning, Iran had not offered an explanation for the accident, saying only that during military exercises the Konarak “had an incident and a number of the navy’s seamen were martyred.”
“The scope of the incident is under investigation by experts,” Iran’s navy said in a statement.
The lack of information, even as Iranians mourned the dead crew members by sharing their photos and names on social media, had unmistakable echoes of the aftermath of the downed jetliner in January. Officials denied for days that Iran had fired the fatal missiles.