With Iran’s regime under pressure after its military’s downing of a Ukraine passenger jet, the Supreme Leader has chosen to go on the attack rather than addressing families of the victims.

In only his third appearance at Tehran Friday Prayers since 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei only briefly referred to the killing of the 176 passengers and crew on January 8, when an Iranian air defense post fired two missiles that exploded near the Boeing 737 jet. At the end of his sermon, posted on his official website, he assumed no responsibility and offered no apology.

The plane crash was a bitter accident that truly broke our hearts. The loss of the dear, young people and those who had come here from other countries was a truly heartrending event.

More than 100 Iranians were among the victims on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, en route to Kiev, which was downed soon after it left Imam Khomeini Airport outside Tehran.

But Khamenei focused on his “slap in the face” retaliation — Iran’s token missile strikes on two Iraqi bases with US personnel that caused no casualties, after the killing of top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike on January 3.

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Hailing A “Great Event”, Belittling Protesters

Khamenei’s appearance was his first at Tehran Friday Prayers since the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in February 2012. Before that, he addressed the congregation on July 19, 2009, seeking to quell mass protests over the disputed 2009 Presidential election.

The Supreme Leader said that the response to the “criminal assassination” was “a sign of God’s power”. He cited the token strikes and the “tens of millions in Iran and hundreds of thousands in Iraq” who mourned Soleimani were “turning points in history”.

In contrast, Khamenei belittled those Iranians who protested after the military, having lied for three days about the cause of the Ukraine crash, and President Hassan Rouhani admitted the firing of the missiles that downed the jet. He said the demonstrators were “stooges of the United States” and reduced them to a “few hundred people who disrespected posters of Iran’s honorable Martyr General Soleimani”.

Maintaining his effort to present Iranian unity, the Supreme Leader insisted that the processions for Soleimani “show that if this nation moves on this path, it will be victorious”. He played up the token strikes, in contrast to their signal of de-escalation by ensuring no American troops were killed:

The US has been receiving blows in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan for many years, blows from the powerful Resistance. However, this case was more important than all the previous blows.

Khamenei tried to convert the casualties of the Ukraine crash into another reason to assail the US:

As much as we were grieved by the tragedy of the plane crash, enemies were happy about it. They tried to question the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic and use it to overshadow the great event.

The Supreme Leader also denounced Britain, France, and Germany, three days after the three countries — all signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal — formally invoked a dispute mechanism over Iran’s suspension of commitments under the agreement.