An Iranian general defended his government's decision to lie for days about whether it shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing 176 people.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, whose troops oversaw the missile system that shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, said that Iran covered it up to defend national security, Business Insider reports.

He made the statement in a television address on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Hajizadeh said that Iran denied the shoot-down "for the betterment of our country's security, because if we had said this, our air defense system would have become crippled and our guys would have had doubted everything."

He appears to have meant that Iranian missile defense would have been compromised by a lack of confidence in itself after making such a catastrophic error, rather than any technical fault to stop their equipment working.

Read alsoRussia could remotely control missile launcher that brought down PS752 – media

Hajizadeh is part of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful paramilitary force which answers directly to the country's supreme leader and is considered more hardline than its elected government.

His remarks are a significant turnaround from four days ago, when he said publicly that he felt such shame over the shootdown that "I wish I could die."

It was a Revolutionary Guard missile system which fired at flight 752, a Boeing 737-800, minutes after it took off in the early hours of January 8.

Iran insisted for three days that the crash was due to a mechanical fault. On the fourth day, Iranian officials admitted shooting the plane down.

Political and military leaders apologized unreservedly, promised to prosecute those involved, and insisted that the shootdown was a mistake.

According to the AP, the crash has also exposed gaps between Iran's government and the Revolutionary Guard.

Read alsoNew video shows two Iranian missiles hit Ukrainian plane – NYT

AP reported that Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, said that he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani only found out that the plane crash was due to Iranian missiles on Friday January 10, two days after the attack.

The Revolutionary Guard would have known straight away, raising the possibility that they hid the truth from their own government until after Western governments began publicly describing it as a missile strike.