Russia military scapegoats Israel, threatens response, after Syria downs Russian plane

September 18, 2018

A Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20 of the kind that was downed by Syria’s Assad regime while both Israel and France, and possibly Britain, were conducting military operations over Syria’s Mediterranean coast last night

 

RUSSIA THREATENS ISRAEL WITH MILITARY RESPONSE AFTER SYRIA DOWNS RUSSIAN PLANE IN FRIENDLY FIRE

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five official Russian reports from the Tass news agency, from mid-morning, lunchtime and early afternoon today, threatening military retaliation against Israel after a Russian military Ilyushin-20 jet was shot down overnight by Syria’s Assad regime in what appears to be an act of friendly fire. The fifth and most recent report (from 2 pm Moscow time) also blames France, although this is Tass quoting a Russian military expert, not the Russian military itself.

The Russian military claims Israel used the Russian jet as cover while hitting Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah chemical weapons producing facilities in Syria.

Russia alleges that an Israeli plane swooped in to hit chemical weapons facilities without sufficient warning to give Russia time to get their aircraft out of the line of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

“A hotline warning was received less than one minute before the strike, which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety,” reports Tass.

Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov told Tass:

“We view these provocative steps by Israel as hostile. Due to the Israeli military’s irresponsible actions 15 Russian servicemen were killed. This is absolutely against the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take adequate tit-for-tat steps.”

 

ISRAEL: OUR PLANES WERE IN ISRAELI AIRSPACE

The IDF has responded as follows on twitter:

https://twitter.com/IDFSpokesperson/status/1042016251596496896?s=19

2. When the Syrian Army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, IAF jets were already within Israeli airspace.
3. During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.

 

RUSSIAN MILITARY NEEDS TO BLAME SOMEONE FOR ITS ERROR, CHOOSES ISRAEL

In its official statements, Russia’s Ministry of Defense not only blamed Israel for attacking Syria, but also claimed that a French naval vessel sailing near Syria’s coast had fired missiles. France denied any involvement in the downing of the Russian Ilyushin Il-20, but did not deny launching missiles last night.

According to reports, British Royal Air Force aircraft were also involved off Syria’s coast last night.

Last month France, Britain and the United States warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that they would use military force if they had evidence that Assad and his Iranian allies were once again preparing to use chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, this time in their upcoming campaign in the breakaway province of Idlib, home to over three million internal Syrian refugees.

The five Tass reports are somewhat repetitive but I attach them all below, for the record. After that I attach a more substantive analysis published this afternoon by the Israeli paper Haaretz, which says:

“Whatever the causes, Israel may have to limit itself in the upcoming weeks and months. The Russians know the truth [that they and their Syrian allies screwed up], but in public have to blame someone [Israel] for their high-profile setback and human tragedy. They can’t blame their Syrian allies.

“Israel will have to take the rap in public, but if the close relationship between Netanyahu and Putin is anything to go by, they’ll find a way to get over this and Israeli aircraft will again be striking Iranian targets in Syria in the not-too-distant future.”

 

PUTIN MOVES TO CALM TENSIONS WITH ISRAEL

Tom Gross adds:

Russia may also wish to stop its Iranian allies from bringing in arms shipments to Syria of the kind Israel was hitting.

Assad’s S-200 anti-aircraft missiles that shot down the Russian military jet were supplied by the Russian military themselves to the Syrians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to calm tensions with Israel, has in the last few minutes distanced himself from the threats of his military officials.

In remarks to reporters, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Putin, stopped short of blaming Israel for the incident, which the Russian military and the defense minister have done.


ARTICLES

SYRIA DOWNED RUSSIA’S PLANE BECAUSE ISRAELI F-16S USED IT AS COVER – RUSSIAN TOP BRASS

Syria downed Russia’s plane because Israeli F-16s used it as cover – Russian top brass
The bombing raid was not far from France’s frigate The Auvergne
September 18, 11:12 UTC+3

http://tass.com/defense/1022031

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. A Russian military Ilyushin-20 aircraft was shot down by Syria’s air defense over the Mediterranean Sea because Israel’s F-16 fighters used it as cover, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the media on Tuesday.

French military deny their involvement in incident with Russia’s plane in Syria – reports
“By using the Russian plane as cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of the F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system,” Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov said four F-16s from the Israeli Air Force carried out a strike with guided air missiles against Syrian facilities in the area of Latakia at about 22:00 on September 17. The fighters approached the target from the Mediterranean at a low altitude.

The Israeli planes deliberately created a dangerous situation for surface ships and aircraft in that area, he stated.

“The bombing raid was near the French frigate The Auvergne and in close proximity to the Ilyushin-20 plane from Russia’s Aerospace Force that was about to land,” Konashenkov said.

He pointed out that the Israeli command centers and the F-16s’ pilots “could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometers.”

“Nevertheless they deliberately staged this provocation,” he stressed.

According to Konashenkov, Israel had issued no warning to the command of the Russian military group in Syria of the forthcoming operation.

“A hotline warning was received less than one minute before the strike, which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety,” he added.

 

RUSSIAN MILITARY VOW RETALIATION AGAINST ISRAELI HOSTILE STEPS FOLLOWING JET’S CRASH

Russian military vow retaliation against Israeli hostile steps following jet’s crash
The general said a search and rescue operation was underway near the Il-20
jet’s crash site
September 18, 12:32 UTC+3

http://tass.com/world/1022036

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. Moscow views Israeli steps, which led to the downing of Russian military jet Il-20 over the Mediterranean Sea, as hostile and reserves the right to retaliate, Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Tuesday.

“We view these provocative steps by Israel as hostile. Due to the Israeli military’s irresponsible actions 15 Russian servicemen were killed. This is absolutely against the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership,” Konashenkov said.

“We reserve the right to take adequate tit-for-tat steps,” he stressed.

The general said a search and rescue operation was underway near the Il-20 jet’s crash site.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, on September 17 at about 23:00 Moscow time (GMT + 3) contact was lost with the crew of a Russian Il-20 plane over Syria’s Mediterranean Sea coast that was returning to the Hmeymim airbase. The ministry said that the Il-20 jet vanished off the radars during the attack of four Israeli F-16 planes on Syrian facilities in the Latakia Governorate.

 

KREMLIN COMMENTS ON RUSSIAN MILITARY PLANE INCIDENT IN SYRIA

Kremlin comments on Russian military plane incident in Syria
Peskov refrained from making any comments or speculations regarding the
likely effects on Russia’s relations with Israel
September 18, 12:34 UTC+3

http://tass.com/politics/1022051

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. The Kremlin promises to analyze the shooting down of Russia’s Ilyushin-20 plane and expresses concern, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told the media.

“As for our plane that has been shot down, I can only say that the Kremlin is extremely worried in connection with this incident,” Peskov told the media.

He added that “the full evaluation of the incident is available in the Defense Ministry’s statement.”

Peskov refrained from any comments or speculations regarding the likely effects on Russia’s relations with Israel.

“The situation is being analyzed. The first comments have been offered in the Defense Ministry’s statement. The evaluation was unequivocal and the actions were described as provocative,” Peskov said. “There is no need for adding anything to the clear statement made by our Defense Ministry. Everything else will follow later.”

Asked if there were any plans for President Vladimir Putin’s telephone conversation with the Israeli leadership, Peskov said he had “nothing to add to what I’ve already said about the presidential timetable.”

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY’S STATEMENT

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the media on Tuesday that at about 22:00 on September 17 four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked Syrian facilities in the area of Latakia, Syria with guided bombs. The planes approached the targets from the Mediterranean at a low altitude.

“The Israeli jets used the Russian plane as a cover, thus exposing it to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of Ilyushin-20, was shot down by a missile launched with the S-200 system.”

“We regard these provocative actions by Israel as hostile,” Konashenkov said. “As a result of irresponsible actions by the Israeli military 15 Russian military servicemen were killed. This by no means agrees with the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to a proportionate response,” he added.

 

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES ISRAEL FOR DOWNING MILITARY PLANE OVER MEDITERRANEAN

Russian defense minister blames Israel for downing military plane over Mediterranean
According to the Russian defense minister, the irresponsible actions by the
Israeli Air Force led to a tragedy, which claimed the lives of 15 Russian
military personnel
September 18, 12:40 UTC+3

http://tass.com/world/1022058

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has held a telephone call with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, stating that Israel is solely to blame for the downing of Russia’s Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

“The responsibility for the downing of the Russian aircraft and the death of its crew lies solely with Israel. The Russian Defense Ministry used various communication channels on numerous occasions to urge Israel to refrain from conducting airstrikes in Syria, which threaten the security of Russian military personnel,” Shoigu said.

According to the Russian defense minister, the irresponsible actions by the Israeli Air Force led to a tragedy, which claimed the lives of 15 Russian military personnel, “despite all existing agreements on preventing dangerous incidents.”

“The Russian military command [in Syria] had been notified [of the attack] one minute before the Israeli F-16 jets conducted airstrikes,” Shoigu pointed out.

“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s actions are not in the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership so we reserve the right to take retaliatory steps,” the Russian defense chief stressed.

DOWNING OF IL-20 AIRCRAFT

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov told reporters earlier on Tuesday that around 22:00 Moscow time (19:00 GMT) on September 17, four Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jets had carried a guided aerial bomb attack on Syrian targets near the city of Latakia. They started they target run at a low altitude from the Mediterranean Sea. “Using the Russian aircraft as a cover, Israeli pilots put it in the line of the Syrian air defense’s fire. As a result, the Il-20 plane, which has a far wider effective reflective area compared to the F-16 jets, was downed by a missile launched from an S-200 complex,” he added.

“We consider Israel’s provocative actions as hostile,” Konashenkov said.

The incident killed 15 Russian military personnel.

 

FRANCE PARTLY TO BLAME FOR RUSSIAN PLANE’S CRASH, SAYS MILITARY EXPERT

France partly to blame for Russian plane’s crash, says military expert
By launching cruise missiles, the French Navy’s frigate only complicated the
situation in that part of the Mediterranean Sea, says expert
September 18, 13:58 UTC+3

http://tass.com/defense/1022076

MOSCOW, September 18. /TASS/. France is partly to blame for the crash of Russia’s Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft in Syria and the death of Russian military servicemen, military expert Mikhail Khodaryonok told reporters.

Russian defense minister blames Israel for downing military plane over Mediterranean
“The French Navy’s frigate, The Auvergne, did not make the best contribution to the air situation, creating additional difficulties for Syrian air defense teams,” he said, adding that “the French frigate was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“By launching cruise missiles, the French Navy’s frigate only complicated the situation in that part of the Mediterranean Sea, which is already difficult. This is why the Russian Il-20 aircraft crash is partly France’s fault,” the Russian expert stressed.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, at about 23:00 Moscow time (20:00 GMT) on September 17, contact was lost with a Russian Il-20 aircraft flying over the Mediterranean Sea back to the Russian Hmeimim air base in Syria. The ministry said the aircraft had disappeared from radar during an airstrike carried out by four Israeli F-16 fighter jets on targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

French military deny their involvement in incident with Russia’s plane in Syria — reports
On Tuesday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Il-20 aircraft had been accidently downed by Syrian air defenses as the Israeli F-16 jets had been using it as a cover. According to Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, Israeli pilots “could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometers.” The ministry added that it considered such actions by Israel to be hostile.

Later in the day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a telephone call with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, stating that Israel was solely to blame for the downing of Russia’s Il-20 aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea. “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s actions are not in the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership so we reserve the right to take retaliatory steps,” the Russian defense chief stressed.

 

ANALYSIS: IN RUSH TO BLAME ISRAEL FOR DOWNED PLANE NEAR LATAKIA, RUSSIA MAY BE CONDUCTING FACE-SAVING OP

In Rush to Blame Israel for Downed Plane Near Latakia, Russia May Be Conducting Face-saving Op
Something strange was definitely in the air over Syria on Monday night, with British and French forces both reportedly present – but Israel may now have to lay low for a while and let Russian pride recover
Analysis
By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz
September 18, 2018

The events of Monday night over Syria’s Mediterranean coast are still unclear. What is known is that a target near the city of Latakia was attacked, Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were launched against the incoming missiles and attacking aircraft, and a Russian electronic-intelligence plane flying offshore was hit and crashed into the sea, with the loss of 15 crew members.

Israeli leaders have previously acknowledged carrying out frequent attacks in Syria against Iranian-linked targets, to prevent the buildup of Iran’s Quds Force in Syria and the transfer of advance weapons system to Hezbollah. However, Israel rarely acknowledges specific attacks, and this one seems different on a number of counts from airstrikes attributed to it by foreign media.

First, it was against a target near Russia’s main base in Syria – Khmeimim air base. While such attacks aren’t entirely unprecedented, they are rare.

Second, Russia’s Ministry of Defense released official statements blaming not only Israel for attacking Syria, but also claimed that a French naval vessel sailing near Syria’s coast had fired missiles. France denied any involvement in the downing of the Russian Ilyushin Il-20, but, interestingly, did not deny launching missiles.

On August 21, France joined the United States and Great Britain in warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that it would use military force if it had evidence of any use of chemical weapons by his regime in its upcoming campaign against the rebel enclave of Idlib.

Something was obviously going on Monday night. Not only Russian and (allegedly) Israeli and French aircraft and missiles were in the air. Civilian radar also tracked British Royal Air Force aircraft, which, unusually, had switched on their transponders and gone into holding patterns – most likely to avoid being somehow involved in the exchange of fire over Latakia. The Ilyushin Il-20 was not so fortunate.

The Russian statements were unusually detailed and quick to apportion blame – to the Syrians for actually shooting down their plane. And to Israel for “intentionally creating a dangerous situation” that allowed it to happen, and for warning them about the impending attack only “one minute” in advance.

There is little reason to doubt the basic details. Israel likely carried out the airstrike (France’s involvement remains an intriguing and still undeciphered element); Russia was given advance warning (whether or not this was sufficient will remain the sticking point); and the Ilyushin plane was almost certainly caught in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles.

But the Russian accusation seems, on the face of it, rather disingenuous.

At all levels of the Israeli political and military establishment – from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downward – great care has been taken to avoid any friction with the Kremlin and Russian forces operating in Syria since September 2015. The “deconfliction” process between the Israeli and Russian air forces, including a hotline between Russia’s operation centers at the Khmeimim air base and Israel Air Force headquarters in Tel Aviv, has been in place for three years and by all accounts has worked well. Misunderstandings have been quickly resolved in private.

It is hard to imagine Israel risking its arrangement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has allowed it free rein to operate against Iranian targets in Syria. Russian forces have been given advance warning of airstrikes, and they have kept clear. It could be that this specific target and its location warranted jeopardizing that arrangement, but this seems highly unlikely. And there are other, more likely causes for the Ilyushin’s loss.

The Syrian and Russian air forces and air-defense batteries work together, in joint operation rooms and air-traffic control centers. The Syrians use Russian-made aircraft and missiles. The Ilyushin would have been equipped with IFF (identification, friend or foe) transponders and both militaries will have procedures to prevent “friendly fire” incidents. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile, made in Russia, should not have shot down a friendly Russian aircraft.

The incident could have been caused in part by (intentionally) late notification by Israel – but it certainly was a screwup between the Russian and Syrian allies. The British aircraft in the area seemed to be prepared to keep out of trouble, so why not the Russians?

The speed with which Russia rushed to blame Israel, before a proper operational investigation of Monday night’s events could be held, points to a screwup of the kind Russia never likes to admit to in public.

The military professionals on either side will know the truth, though. Was Israel slower than usual in notifying its Russian counterparts? Or was the main cause of the Ilyushin loss a technical glitch or faulty procedures on the Syrian or Russian side? It could have been a combination of factors.

Whatever the causes, Israel may have to limit itself in the upcoming weeks and months. The Russians know the truth, but in public have to blame someone for their high-profile setback and human tragedy. They can’t blame their Syrian allies.

Israel will have to take the rap in public, but if the close relationship between Netanyahu and Putin is anything to go by, they’ll find a way to get over this and Israeli aircraft will again be striking Iranian targets in Syria in the not-too-distant future.

 

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