An Australian warship carrying nearly 200 soldiers will on Monday set sail for a narrow shipping route in the Gulf region that is at the centre of rising tensions between Iran and the US.
The ABC reports a Royal Australian Navy ship called HMAS Toowoomba will depart for the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most volatile shipping channels.
The six-month deployment is part of a maritime security mission to protect oil supplies leaving the narrow shipping route, and comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
If security in the environment deteriorates, the 190 sailors will be diverted elsewhere in the Middle East.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia’s navy which is expected to arrive at the Strait of Hormuz in a fortnight, is tasked with safeguarding freedom of navigation in the region.
“This highly capable vessel will focus on promoting maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East by supporting counter terrorism, preventing piracy, and freedom of navigation,” she told the ABC.
All 176 passengers and crew were killed moments after taking off from an airport in the capital Tehran last week and Iran initially denied involvement.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” a group of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter.
The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC under @khamenei_ir's kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future. pic.twitter.com/tBOjv9XsIG
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 11, 2020
Scores of demonstrators were shown outside another university in the capital and at gatherings in other cities on Sunday.
Some state-affiliated media also carried reports of university protests, following days of denials by the military, issued even as Canada and the US said a missile was responsible.
Iran’s president eventually conceded it was a “disastrous mistake” and apologised.
Riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted “death to the dictator”, directing their anger at Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Apologise and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
US President Donald Trump warned Iranian authorities not to harm demonstrators.
“To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching,” he posted on Twitter.
To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
Before Iran’s admission, Ukraine investigators were undertaking an examination of the plane’s remains and found enough evidence pointing to the rogue nation.
Ukraine Security Chief Oleksiy Danilov told the BBC the discovery of missile damage and a part of a missile gave Iran no choice but to come clean.
“I think Iran understood they had no choice. All photos and video that we needed, we already had,” said Mr Danilov.
“And even if they had tried to create obstacles, we already had enough to show the international community what really happened there.
Mr Danoliv shared photos from the scene with the BBC.
“This photo shows the part where the missile hit,” said Mr Danoliv, referring to an image of the plane’s mangled underside.
“It hit the cockpit from underneath. We think this is proof and it explains why we didn’t hear anything from the pilots.
“They died immediately after the first hit.
“These are holes made by explosive elements,” he said, indicating photos of small holes in the shell of the aircraft, caused by the anti-aircraft missile.
Mr Danoliv said another image showed what the Ukrainians believed was part of the missile.
The evidence was gathered before the Iranians made full admissions of responsibility, blaming human error for the “disastrous mistake” of shooting down a planeload of innocent people – most of whom were Iranians.
“As soon as Iranians gave us access to these items, our specialists kept us updated every hour as to what was happening,” said Mr Danilov.
“And very quickly as we gathered information, we understood what had happened.
“We couldn’t make it public straight away; we needed to be able to work there.
“Iran is a very difficult country as you know. And we were worried they would send our specialists back.”