Russia: Israel to Blame for Downed Plane Over Syria, Deliberately Misled Us

Russia's Defense Ministry contradicts 'ungrateful' Israel's account of incident in which 15 Russian airmen were killed, reveals op to locate remains of Israeli MIAs in ISIS-held Syria

File photo: The Russian Il-20 electronic intelligence plane of the Russian air force with the registration number RF 93610, downed over Syria on September 18, 2018.
Marina Lystseva,AP

Update: After Downing of Spy Plane, Russia to Supply Assad Regime With S-300 Air Defense System

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday formally blamed Israel for the downing of the Russian aircraft last week over Syria, accusing the Israeli military of "criminal negligence." 

In a report detailing the circumstances surrounding the incident, Russia accused Israel of deliberately misleading Russia on its planned airstrikes, preventing the downed plane from moving to a safe place on time.

The Israeli military denied the claims later on Sunday, saying that mechanisms to coordinate with Russia were used properly prior to the downing of the plane and that Russian officers were given "full, precise and factual details."

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"The presented objective data indicates that the actions of the Israeli fighter pilots which led to the loss of the life of 15 Russian servicemen lacked professionalism and were an act of criminal negligence to say the least. Therefore we believe that the blame for the tragedy of the Russian Ilyushin-20 lies entirely with the Israeli air force and those who made the decision to carry out such actions," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

Sharply criticizing Israel's conduct in the incident, Konashenkov said that Israel's military leadership "either has no appreciation for the level of relations with Russia, or has no control over individual commands or commanding officers who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy."

Russia also contradicted Israel's claims that the plane was downed while Israeli jets had returned to Israeli territory. "The Israeli jets saw the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 and used it as a shield against the anti-aircraft missiles, while they carried on maneuvering in the region," the Defense Ministry said.

Russia sent as many as 310 notifications to the Israeli military since the countries reached a cooperation agreement , Konashenkov said, while Israel only notified Russia 25 times. Konashenkov noted the discrepancy despite Israel carrying out more than 200 strikes in Syria in the past year and a half. "This is an extremely ungrateful response to all that has been done by the Russian Federation for Israel and the Israeli people recently," Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov also lauded Russia's efforts to secure the withdrawal of Iran-backed forces from the Golan Heights near the Israeli border, saying that a total of 1,050 personnel, 24 MLRSs and tactical missiles, as well as 145 pieces of other munitions and military equipment" were moved more than 140 km to the east of Syria. Konashenkov added that this was done at Israel's request.

Konashenkov noted that Russia is working to preserve Jewish sites and graves in the Syrian city of Aleppo, adding that Russian soldiers' are aiding in a special search operation for the remains of Israeli servicemen missing in action following prior conflicts. He said Russian forces came under fire from ISIS militants while searching in coordinates provided by Israel. He noted that one Russian officer was wounded but the operation continued.

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 coastal Syrian city of Latakia. Israel blamed the incident on Syrian recklessness, while the Russian embassy in Israel said the Air Force's actions were "irresponsible and unfriendly" and exposed the downed plane to danger.

Lebanese news outlet Al-Mayadeen meanwhile reported that Russia plans to continue its closure of the airspace above Syria's territorial waters after the end of military exercises on September 26. According to the report, the decision to shut the airspace was made by Russia's National Security Council after the plane was shot down. Al-Mayadeen reported earlier this week that Russia had rejected Israel's findings regarding the incident.

Israel does not usually comment on reports that it conducted airstrikes in Syria, but was forced to this week because of the incident.

An Israel Defense Forces delegation traveled Thursday to Moscow in an attempt to ease the tensions caused by the incident. The delegation, headed by the commander of the air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, offered Russian Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Andrey Yudin 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.

A senior military source said that the Israeli delegation presented Russia with "operational and intelligence details regarding Iran's entrenchment in Syria, the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, and the information the IDF possessed about depots in Latakia that led to Israel's attack."

An Israeli military statement said that the delegation presented maps, documents and a presentation showing a step-by-step breakdown of the incident.