Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement early on Tuesday that a military aircraft “disappeared” over the Mediterranean while Israeli air forces were undergoing an attack against Syria.
The jet is of the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft type. It went down with 15 service members during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets against the coastal city of Latakia, near the Hmeymim airbase, to which the Russian plane was returning, the ministry said.
It also said it detected missile launches in the area from the French frigate Auvergne. In a statement, the French military has “denied any involvement in the attack,” AFP reported.
CNN and Reuters quoted US officials in different reports saying that Washington believes Syrian air defences had accidentally shot down the Russian jet. Syria’s state media SANA said that government air defences had “intercepted hostile missiles coming from the sea into Latakia city.”
Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov blamed Israel for indirectly causing the incident and said Russia reserved “the right to take commensurate measures in response,” without giving further details.
“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”
Meanwhile, IDS spokesperson said that “IDF fighter jets targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
It added that “These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it.”
Israel rarely acknowledges carrying out specific airstrikes in Syria, but is believed to be behind dozens of attacks on Iranian forces and Hezbollah weapons’ shipments. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated they will not hesitate to target Iranian advanced weapons in Syria.
On the possibility of downing the Russian plane, the spokesperson said that “the IDF and the Russian army have a deconfliction system, which was agreed upon by the states’ leaders, and has proven itself many times over recent years. This system was in use tonight as well.”
He illustrated that “An initial inquiry of the incident suggests that an extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed, and that when the Syrian Army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, IAF jets were already within Israeli airspace.”
He added that during the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was hit was not within the area of the operation. The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.
Moreover, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the downing of the Russian plane. “The prime minister, in the name of the State of Israel, conveyed sorrow over the deaths of the Russian soldiers, and said that the responsibility for downing the plane falls on Syria,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
During the conversation, Netanyahu told Putin of Israel’s determination to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, stressing that his country would share all the information it had on the circumstances of the raid with the Russian side, in addition to sending an air force leader to Moscow to “deliver all the needed information.”
Several powers have been negotiating to contain the crisis in Syria. On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that they have confirmed “their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms.”
Putin also said he believed “it is our common belief that the practical realisation of the planned steps will provide an additional impulse for the process of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict,” he said.
Erdogan said the Idlib buffer zone was crucial to preventing a “big humanitarian crisis.”