JERUSALEM, Israel – A senior Israeli military delegation left for Moscow on Thursday in an attempt to calm Russian anger over Syria downing one of its planes.
A Syrian missile – part of an anti-aircraft system supplied by Russia – brought down the Russian IL-20 plane over the Mediterranean Sea, killing all 15 servicemen on board.
But Russia blamed Israel for the crash, saying it was caught in the crossfire as Israeli fighter jets attacked Iranian targets near Latakia, Syria, and threatened a response.
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Israel for the downed jetliner, Photo, AP
"The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense," said Maj.-General Igor Konashenkov, chief spokesman of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, in a video statement.
"We notified our Israeli colleagues, in particular, I notified the defense minister of Israel, that we won't leave such actions, such steps, without a response. It's clear for all specialists that under cover of our Il-20 aircraft, a blow was struck, supposing that Syrian air defense systems wouldn't act in that direction," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with officials, Photo, AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the Yom Kippur fast expressing condolences for the death of the Russian airmen but put the blame on Syria.
Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot, said the airstrikes in Syria were part of an effort to "prevent our enemies from advancing capabilities that threaten the State of Israel."
Israeli jet fighter, Photo, CBN News
"Unfortunately, Syria[n] forces hit a Russian aircraft and we share the sorrow of the families and the Russian army," Eisenkot said.
Israel established a de-confliction agreement with Russia several years ago to enable Israel to hit Iranian targets inside Syria without colliding with Russia. For Israel, maintaining that understanding is critical to its defense.
UN Security Council, Photo, AP
The IDF released a statement saying it had followed the de-confliction agreement with the Russians in carrying out this mission.
As proof the IDF said, 1) The Syrians had used extensive and inaccurate anti-aircraft fire; 2) The Israel Air Force jets were already in Israeli airspace when the Russian plane was hit; and 3) During the Israeli airstrike the Russian plane was not in the area.
Former Israeli National Security Advisor Major General (res.) Ya'akov Amidror, a current senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a telephone briefing that striking Iranian targets is a priority mission for Israel.
"The importance of the target will not be changed," Amidror said. "It is a very important target for Israel to prevent the Iranians from building this independent war machine in Syria and to prevent the Iranians from transferring game-changer weapons systems into the hands of Hezbollah."
United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura urged all the players to exercise restraint.
UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, Photo, AP
"We call upon all parties, especially when we are getting this kind of positive news regarding what could have been a dramatic military escalation, to refrain from military actions elsewhere that would only exacerbate an already complex situation," de Mistura said.
In general, regarding Iran's presence in Syria, the US says Iran has to go.
"Iran cannot dictate the future for the Syrian people. If Russia is interested in bringing peace to Syria, it should make sure Iran and its militias leave Syria once and for all," James Jeffrey, United States Special Representative for Syria said in a statement about Syria. "The risk of a broader conflict will leave with them."
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey, Photo, AP
For now, Amidror said, the key to maintaining Israel's ability to strike inside Syria is convincing Russia that the incident wasn't Israel's fault.