- Russia blamed Israel after Syria shot down a Russian plane above the Mediterranean during an air battle on Monday night.
- Russian media said four Israeli F-16s carried out the attack in Syria and that Israel gave just one minute’s warning to Russia, which maintains large military bases in the region.
- Syrian air defences sprang to life during the attack, but it’s unclear whether they shot down anything besides the Russian Il-20.
- Russia said it reserved the right to take “commensurate measures” against Israel in response.
The Russian Ministry of Defence has blamed Israel for the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian antiaircraft artillery in the Mediterranean.
The Il-20 plane went down during a massive air battle between Israeli jets and Syrian air defences, which sprang to life during a missile attack that pounded an ammunition depot and an industrial compound.
Israel’s air force confirmed its attack on Syria on Twitter on Tuesday, saying it attacked a weapons site that it believed Syria would have transferred to terrorist groups to fire on Israel. The Israeli air force expressed sorrow for the loss of Russian life but put the blame firmly on Syria’s air defences, which it said fired indiscriminately.
Photo and videos of the event show bombs hitting the ground while air-defence rockets streak skyward. No video from the incident has shown a successful interception.
Syria, a Russian ally, operates numerous Russian-made air defences but has never demonstrated a significant ability to intercept incoming missiles. Though Syria claimed it downed many of the missiles fired by the US last year and earlier this year as punishment for chemical attacks blamed on the Syrian military, it never provided any evidence. During the US strikes, Syrian missile defences appeared to fire wildly and sometimes without a target.
Russia said its Il-20 went down about 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast at about 11 p.m. local time, during the heat of the battle.
Russian media said that four Israeli F-16s carried out the attack and that Israel gave just one minute’s warning to Russia, which maintains large military bases in the region.
“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air-defence forces,” Russian media reported the Russian Defence Ministry as saying. “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.”
“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished. This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” the Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state media, Reuters noted.
“We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response,” Konashenkov said.
Later, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shoot down “the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances,”Reuters notes. Putin acknowledged on Tuesday the accidental nature of the plane’s downing and said it didn’t compare to the 2015 incident when Turkey shot down a Russian jet in combat.
Russia had previously claimed that a French frigate operating in the area had fired missiles before the Il-20 went down, but France denied participating in the attack.
Russia has frequently boasted about its air defences in Syria and their ability to repel attacks from even top-of-the-line US stealth jets.
Israeli F-16s are practiced in knocking over Syrian air defences but remain a generation behind US-made stealth jets in radar-evading technology.
Previous strikes in Syria linked to Israel have given a wide berth to areas populated by Russian defences, but strikes on the Damascus International Airport on Sunday and the air battle on Monday have played out near Russian forces.
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