The IDF took the rare step of acknowledging airstrikes in Syria following the downing of a Russian plane, which it attributed to Syrian forces firing “indiscriminately,” The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.
“Israel expresses its regret over the death of the crew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” a statement from the IDF’s Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin later said that Israel was not responsible for shooting down the plane, but that the plane was hit as a result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
The IDF’s response had been prompted by official Russian statements blaming Israel for the downing of the plane.
Earlier, an official from Russia’s Defense Ministry told the TASS news agency that the plane, identified as an IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft, disappeared from radar as Israeli F-16 fighters fired on targets in the western Syrian province of Latakia. The Russian Defense Ministry accused Israel of using the plane as cover for its attacks on Syria.
“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov told TASS. “This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis disputed the reported Russian claims. He explained that the de-confliction mechanism worked out with Russia, which was designed to prevent Israeli and Russian forces from clashing accidentally in Syria, “was in use tonight like it has been in use in the past.”
Reuters reported that an unnamed United States official had said that it appeared that Syrian armed forces had downed the plane of its ally, Russia.
The IDF statement was summarized in a series of tweets. While the IDF expressed sorrow over the deaths of the Russian personnel, it charged that the plane had been struck by “Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” and that the IDF “holds the Assad regime … responsible” for the incident.
The IDF explained that the military airstrikes in Latakia were against a facility that was used “to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons” that were to be transferred to Hezbollah. These weapons, the IDF explained, “posed an intolerable threat” to Israel.
The IDF maintained that the de-confliction mechanism was in use during the attack on Latakia, but that “extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (Surface to Air missile) fire” hit the plane. Moreover, according to the IDF, at the time that the Russian plane was hit, “IAF jets were already within Israeli airspace.”
“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately,” the IDF recounted, “and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The IDF also promised to share the findings of its investigation into the events with the Russian government.
Although Israel doesn’t generally acknowledge its activities in Syria, earlier this week, shortly after an attack was carried out against buildings at Damascus International Airport, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would continue enforcing its red lines.
Earlier this month, the IDF said that it had struck over 200 Iranian military sites in Syria over the past year and a half.
[Photo: Amichai Stein / Twitter ]