Israel Air Force Chief Heads to Moscow to Discuss Syria Strike, Downing of Russian Jet

Hezbollah says Israel’s attacks on Syria are intolerable ■ Assad sends a condolence cable to Putin, blaming Israel for incident

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russia January 29, 2018.
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

An Israel Defense Forces delegation will travel Thursday to Moscow in an attempt to ease the tensions caused by Monday night’s incident, in which Syrian anti-aircraft missiles downed a Russian plane while trying to thwart an Israeli airstrike on Syrian port city Latakia.

The delegation will be headed by the commander of the air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.

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Norkin and his fellow officers will offer the Russians their view of what transpired, including the information Israel had prior to its airstrike and the main findings of the IDF inquiry into the incident. They will also detail Iran’s ongoing efforts to consolidate its military presence in Syria and smuggle strategic weapons to Hezbollah.

Norkin will be joined by the head of the IDF’s international cooperation unit, Brig. Gen. Erez Maisel, along with officers from Military Intelligence, the air force and the IDF’s operations directorate.

Russia's Defense Ministry said 15 Russian military service people died in the incident.

>> Putin says Israel didn't down Russian aircraft; Netanyahu offers condolences  Putin absolves Israel, but crisis with Moscow reaches all the way to Tehran | Analysis

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that Israel’s attacks on Syria are intolerable and that a way must be found to end them. “We, as Lebanese, must think about how to prevent Israel’s gross violation of Lebanese airspace,” he added, apparently referring to the fact that some of Israel’s strikes on Syria are carried out from Lebanese airspace.

Alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

Nasrallah also claimed that Hezbollah’s forces are the ones that achieved a “historic victory” over Israel, as well as the ones that prevented the Islamic State from taking over Lebanon. By “historic victory,” he presumably meant Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Syrian President Bashar Assad sent a condolence cable to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday following the downing of the Russian plane. The cable, published by the official Syrian news agency SANA, said the incident was a result of Israel’s well-known arrogance and lack of restraint, adding that Israel “always uses the dirtiest means to achieve its low purposes and carry out its aggression in our region.”

>> Satellite images reveal destruction caused by Israeli strike in Syria; Putin accepts offer to probe downed jet

Assad offered his condolences for the deaths of the Russian soldiers and officers aboard the downed plane and expressed confidence that this regrettable incident would not prevent Russia and Syria from continuing to cooperate in “the fight against terrorism in Syria” – a battle, he added, in which the blood of Russian and Syrian soldiers has already been mingled.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Putin after the incident and expressed his condolences as well, but added that the responsibility for the downing of the Russian plane rests with Syria. Putin said on Tuesday that Israel was not responsible for the downing of a Russian military aircraft.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also responded to the downing of the aircraft, expressing sorrow for the deaths of Russian aircrew members. Pompeo said that the incident “reminds us of the need to find permanent, peaceful and political resolutions to the many overlapping conflicts in the region.” He added that the incident brings to light “the danger of tragic miscalculations in Syria’s crowded theater of operations.”