Russia vs. Israel: The Contradicting Accounts of the Downing of a Plane Over Syria

From responsibility to coordination, Russia and Israel don't agree on the events that preceded the deadly downing of a Russian military plane near Latakia

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, July 11, 2018.
Yuri Kadobnov,AP

The Russian Defense Ministry presented its investigation on Sunday into the downing of a Russian aircraft over Syria last week. In a report detailing the circumstances surrounding the incident, Russia accused Israel of deliberately misleading Russia on its planned airstrikes, preventing the plane in question from moving to a safe place on time.

Fifteen Russian airmen were killed when the Ilyushin 20 airplane was mistakenly shot down by Syria's air defenses soon after an Israeli strike near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia. The Israel Air Force attacked a facility inside Syria containing systems to manufacture precision rockets for Iran and Hezbollah.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that "it looks like a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn't shoot down our jet." However, the Russian Defense Ministry placed the blame entirely on Israel on Sunday, presenting a number of claims that contradict the Israeli explanations of the events leading to the downing of the plane.

Who is responsible?

Russian version: Israel is solely responsible for the shooting down of the plane. The Russian Defense Ministry says the IDF’s actions were “unprofessional or criminally negligent, at the very least.”

Israeli version: Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last week that Assad's military was responsible for the “tragic mistake.” He said: "They have a military, air defense, irresponsible and unprofessional people.” The Israeli inquiry into the incident found no fault with the Israeli air force’s operations, and said that the Syrian air defense fired over 20 missiles wildly in all directions, without taking any of the necessary means of caution to ascertain no Russians planes were in the air in the vicinity.

Defense coordination

Russian version: Israel informed the Russians about the attack on Latakia only one minute before it took place and did not allow it enough time to withdraw its forces. In addition, Russia claims that Israel informed it that it would attack in northern Syria, while Latakia is in western Syria.

Israeli version: A senior military officer said on Wednesday that "the system of military coordination works as it has worked throughout the past years. The claim that we informed the Russians only a minute in advance of the attack is wrong. The message was passed on much more than a minute before the attack, an amount of time that was acceptable, as has happened throughout all the years the military coordination has operated." Israel has not commented so far on the seemingly incorrect report of the location of the attack.

Israeli jets' location

Russian version: The Israeli planes continued to fly over the area of the Syrian coast and, as a result, the Syrian air defense forces mistakenly thought the Russian plane was an Israeli plane.

Israeli version: The anti-aircraft missiles were fired at the Russian plane when the Israeli jets were already landing in Israel.