After Iran initially accused Israel of intercepting a Mahan Air A310 on its way to Beirut from Tehran, the U.S. Central Command spoke up to reveal it was one of its F-15 fighter jets that conducted “a standard visual inspection”.

The Airbus A310-304, registered EP-MNF, was carrying out flight W51152 from Tehran International Airport (IKA) to Beirut International Airport (BEY) on July 23, 2020. But as it was crossing the Syrian airspace, the aircraft was approached by a fighter jet.

According to the Iranian state television, the flight crew of the airliner was forced by the jet maneuvers to change its altitude abruptly, injuring several people on board. Footage from inside the cabin shows panicking passengers. 

The A310 eventually landed in Beirut where passengers deplaned normally. Only a few minor injuries were treated among them, according to the director of the Beirut airport, quoted by Reuters. None had to be taken to a hospital.

The Iranian authorities initially suspected that the interception was carried out by the Israeli Air Force. But the U.S. Central Command released a statement claiming responsibility, saying the F-15 involved was protecting coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” the statement reads, concluding “the professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”

Yet the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that after examining the circumstances of the incident, legal actions could be taken. Reaching out to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the ministry said Iran would hold the United States responsible for any incident that might occur with the Mahan Air plane when it returned to Iran. “The details of this incident are being reviewed,” the ministry said in a statement. “Once the data is collected, political and judicial measures will be adopted.”

With a fleet of 54 aircraft, Mahan Air is Iran’s largest airline. In 2011, the carrier was accused by the U.S. authorities of “supporting Iran’s terrorism activities” by transporting troops and supplies to Bashar al-Assad regime. It was also flagged for providing support to the Quds Force, the Special Forces unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards that has been involved in the Syrian civil war.

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The national carrier of Iran, Iran Air, announced the return of a route between Tehran and Rome at the beginning of December 2019. Earlier in the month, Italy banned Mahan Air, another Iranian carrier, from its airspace following diplomatic pressure from the United States.
 

Washington has intensified sanctions against people and companies linked to Iran following the decision of President Donald Trump to step out of the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018. U.S. sanctions that were reinstated in August 2018 have greatly impacted the aviation industry.

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The President of the United States Donald Trump announced on May 8, 2018 his intention to pull out from Iranian nuclear deal and to restore sanctions on Iran. The bans about to be enforced again concern the trade of oil, metal… and aviation. The decision will affect many companies of the aviation industry on both sides of the Atlantic, countering hundreds of aircraft sales - worth billions of dollars - to Iran.