Diplomacy

TIP Backgrounder: Downing of Russian Military Plane over Syria: What You Need to Know

WHAT HAPPENED?

On Tuesday, a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft with 15 people onboard was mistakenly shot down by allied Syrian forces that were targeting Israeli jets in the western Syrian province of Latakia.

Israel later acknowledged it had attacked a facility in the area, which was used by Iran to enhance Hezbollah’s long-range missiles capability. This attack coincides with Israel’s “red lines”: Not to allow Hezbollah to acquire game-changing weapons; and not to let Iran build an independent war machine in Syria.

“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.”

An official from Russia’s Defense Ministry told the TASS news agency that the plane disappeared from radar, as Israeli F-16 fighters fired on Iranian targets in Latakia. The Russian Defense Ministry accused Israel of using the plane as cover for its attacks.
• Up until this week, and during several hundred attacks Israel has carried out in Syria in recent years, it did not target or harm any Russian soldiers or facilities. According to analysts, Israel has devoted many resources to avoid any harm to Russian forces and weapon systems in Syria.
• Blame for this week’s incident lies solely in Syria’s hands. It is Syria that fired the missiles and targeted the Russian military plane.

WHAT TO EXPECT NOW?
The strategic implications of this incident depend on Russia’s reaction. Israel has dispatched a high-level delegation to Moscow, led by the commander of the Israeli Air Force, in order to provide the Russians with evidence that Israel made all efforts to prevent any harm to Russians forces. Analysts suggests that the stronger the evidence Israel is able provide, the easier it will be for Russian President Vladimir Putin to move on, and not curtail Israel’s activities in the region.

“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov told TASS news agency on Tuesday. “This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”

However, 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.” In a subsequent phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Putin urged Israel though “not to allow such situations in the future.”
•   Israel will continue to enforce its “red lines” in Syria as this is a strategic priority. Even if there will be some Russian restrictions, Israel is resolved to continue to protect its interest in the region, to avoid letting Iran establish a war machine in Syria, and to prevent the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah.

READ MORE:

Op-eds on Syria by Josh Block, CEO & President of The Israel Project
•   Averting a humanitarian disaster: Israel’s involvement in Syria is no longer just about its own security, September 13, 2018
•   Seizing the Moment to Remove Iran from Syria, June 5, 2018
•   U.S. must tell Russia: We won’t leave Syria until Iran does, April 5, 2018
•   As you were saying…U.S. without a strategy as Syrian battle rages on, February 24, 2018
•   In Syria, a moment to turn back Iranian aggression, February 22, 2018
•   Western obsession with Islamic State opened the door for Iranian aggression, February 17, 2018

Podcast
•   Following the downing of a Russian military plane over Syria during an Israeli air strike on Iranian targets, TIP hosted former National Security Advisor, Yaakov Amidror, for a press call on possible strategic implications.

Tower coverage
•   IDF: Syrian Forces “Indiscriminately” Firing Anti-Aircraft Weapons Downed Russian Plane, September 18, 2018
•   State Dept. Officials: After Defeat of ISIS, U.S. Prioritizes Iran’s Departure from Syria, September 7, 2018
•   IDF: Israel Has Struck More Than 200 Iranian Military Sites in Syria Over Past Eighteen Months, September 5, 2018
•   Bolton: Israel Justified in Striking Iranian Assets in Syria, August 23, 2018

Digital Assets
•VIDEO: Why Israel is striking targets in Syria
•VIDEO: Iran building a military base in Syria near Israel’s border
•VIDEO: Iran’s war in Syria to attack Israel

[Photo: Dmitry Terekhov / Flickr ]