Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Israel was not responsible for the downing of a Russian military aircraft during a strike on Syria Monday night. “It looks like a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet,” he said.

Putin’s comments were a shift in tone after Defense Ministry accused Israel  on Tuesday  of indirectly causing a Russian military plane to be shot down near Syria’s Mediterranean coast, and threatened to retaliate against Israel for the hostile act.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, with 15 Russian service personnel on board, was brought down by anti-aircraft batteries of Moscow’s ally, Syria, in a friendly fire incident, Reuters reported.

But the ministry said it held Israel responsible because, at the time of the incident, Israeli fighter jets were mounting air attacks on Syria targets and had only given Moscow one minute’s warning, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in the cross-fire.

“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”

Israel’s military declined to comment, as did the prime minister’s office and the foreign ministry.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, and told him Moscow held Israel wholly responsible for the shooting down of the plane, Russian news agencies reported. The Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed the call but declined to give any further details.

Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry over the incident, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Moscow said its plane disappeared from radar screens as it was coming in to land at the Hmeymim air base in western Syria late on Monday, just as Israeli jets and French naval vessels were mounting airstrikes on targets in the same area of Syria.

France denied launching any missile strikes.

Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft (Screenshot)
Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft (Screenshot)

According to the ministry, the Israeli F-16 jets carrying out the air strikes used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets on the ground without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

“Hiding behind the Russian aircraft, the Israeli pilots put it in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems. As a result, the Il-20 … was shot down by the (Syrian) S-200 missile system,” Konashenkov said.

He said the Israeli pilots “could not have failed to see the Russian aircraft, as it was coming in to land from a height of 5 km (three miles). Nevertheless, they deliberately carried out this provocation,” Konashenkov said.

In the call with Putin after his recantation, Netanyahu stressed the importance of continuing the security coordination with Russia, which he said has saved many lives on both sides over the past three years. He offered to send Russia all necessary details in order to investigate the incident, including dispatching the Israel Air Force chief to Moscow.

Source: Tasnim News Agency