Syrian air defenses accidentally shot down a Russian military plane over northwest Syria on Monday night, the Russian defense ministry said.
But the Kremlin is blaming Israel, not its ally in Damascus, for the loss of the Il-20 surveillance plane, which was carrying 15 Russian troops when it went down.
Russia said Tuesday that Israel was ultimately responsible for what appeared to be a case of friendly fire, because Israeli jets were carrying out airstrikes in the area and had not given the Russian plane enough time to fly out of danger.
Israeli F-16s were “hiding behind the Russian aircraft” and put the plane “in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Interfax news agency, according to The New York Times.
Russia is Syrian President Basahr al-Assad’s most important ally in the seven-year civil war — Moscow’s air power has allowed Assad to regain control of most of the country except for the Idlib province in the northwest and areas in eastern Syria controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish militia. (RELATED: Russia Resumes Airstrikes In Syria Despite Trump’s Warning Not To Attack Rebel Province)
Israel has frequently intervened in Syria to prevent Assad’s other primary ally, Iran, from establishing a military presence there. More than 200 Israeli sorties have targeted both Iranian arms shipments and Syrian army facilities thought to be hosting Iranian forces.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces expressed condolences for the loss of the Russian plane but placed the blame squarely on “extensive and inaccurate” fire from Syrian air defenses.
“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,” the IDF said.
Just prior to the shoot down of the Russian plane, Israeli warplanes had been attacking a Syrian military facility near the port city of Latakia. The facility was being used to make “accurate and lethal” weapons that were to be transferred to Lebanese Hezbollah on behalf of Iran, the IDF said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have met on multiple occasions to discuss ways to avoid direct conflict while backing opposing sides in the Syrian war. But the risk of an accidental clash between the two powers has risen in recent months as their forces have begun to operate in close proximity to each other.
Israel’s airstrikes in the area violated the “spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” Konashenkov said Tuesday, adding that Moscow reserves “the right to take adequate measures in response.”
The Russian reconnaissance plane was shot down by a Russian-made S-200 surface-to-air missile battery, Moscow said. There were no immediate reports of survivors.
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