In a series of statements via the official Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Twitter account, Israel has said it "expresses sorrow" over the deaths of the 15 Russian crew members aboard a maritime surveillance plane that was shot down near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia Monday night.
While expressing regret towards the Russian loss of the aircraft and personnel, which was reportedly downed by mistake as Syrian anti-missile defense systems attempted to respond to a barrage of Israeli rockets and airstrikes from over the Mediterranean coastal area, Israel said that ultimately it is the Syrian military that's responsible.
Israel's statement begins by saying it "expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” but that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident. Israel also made mention of Iran and Hezbollah while assigning blame for the "unfortunate incident".
The IDF did own up to launching the massive Monday evening attack, which involved strikes on locations across four Syrian provinces, but cast its sustained military action as defensive in nature.
The IDF said it targeted sites “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.” It further claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.” The IDF said "these weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it".
One of the sites attacked early in the hour-plus long assault was an scientific research center, which Israel has alleged is used to develop chemical weapons. The strike resulted in a massive fireball over the mountainous Latakia skyline.
Israel expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire.— Israel Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson) September 18, 2018
Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident.
Early on Tuesday, as more information was presumably gathered, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) issued a shocking claim that has increased tensions even further between Russia and Israel. While Russia had previously blamed Israel for the downing of the plane, the MoD said that Israel intended to use the Russian plane as "cover" during the attack.
A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense said Russia believes the attack was a set-up, with Israeli hoping to use the Russian plane as badly needed cover from Syrian air defenses. Since the Russian plane had much higher profile than the Israeli plane, the Syrian defense systems would naturally latch on to the Il-20, according to the prior MoD statement.
"The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile," the statement said.
Russia further confirmed that Israel notified Russia of the impending massive attack on Syrian targets through the military-to-military hotline set up to prevent such "accidents" but only gave a one minute notice, which didn't allow Russian aircraft to evacuate the area.
Below is the IDF response to the Russian charges, issued Tuesday:
An initial inquiry of the incident suggests: 1. Extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (Surface to Air missile) fire caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed. 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. 4. The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.
Thus Israel is claiming its jets were nowhere near the Russian Il-20 aircraft — an implicit denial of the Russian Defense Ministry's charge of a "set-up".
An initial inquiry of the incident suggests:— Israel Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson) September 18, 2018
1. Extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (Surface to Air missile) fire caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed.
The Russian Il-20 was accidentally shot down by an aging Syrian S-200 antiaircraft missile system during the chaos as Russia scrambled planes to respond to the attack. Russian radar also registered missile launches from the French frigate, but it's unclear how this factored into the attack, if at all.
Israel has carried out roughly 200 strikes in Syria over the past year and a half as it's claimed to be pushing back against Tehran's growing presence in the war-torn battle zone.
Moscow said on the morning after the incident that it has a right to "respond adequately" to the attack. Israel has vowed that it will "share all the relevant information with the Russian Government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry."
We don't expect that this will be the last time such a dangerous incident which puts the world on the brink of a World War 3 scenario occurs.