by WorldTribune Staff, September 18, 2018
After his own Defense Ministry had blamed Israel for Syria’s shooting down of a Russian warplane over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 18 backtracked and concluded that the incident, in which 15 Russian personnel died, was an accident.
“It rather looks like a chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” Putin told reporters. “An Israeli jet did not shoot down our plane. No doubt we should seriously look into this [incident].”
Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry said the IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft on Sept. 17 was hit by Syrian anti-aircraft batteries which were targeting Israeli F-16s. The ministry said Israel was responsible as it had only given Moscow a minute’s warning, putting the Russian plane in danger of being caught in the crossfire.
“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”
The Israeli military blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for the deaths of the Russian personnel.
“Israel expresses sorrow for the deaths of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed … due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” an Israeli military statement said. “Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hizbullah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”
Russia said the IL-20 disappeared from radar screens as it was coming in to land at the Hmeymim airbase in western Syria. At the same time, Israeli jets and French naval vessels, including The Auvergne frigate, were attacking targets in the same area of Syria.
“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,” the Israeli statement said, adding that Israel would “share all the relevant information” with Russia “to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”
France denied launching any missile strikes.
In its initial response to the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry said Israeli F-16s used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets on the ground without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
“Hiding behind the Russian aircraft, the Israeli pilots put it in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems. As a result, the Il-20 … was shot down by the [Syrian] S-200 missile system,” Konashenkov said.
He said the Israeli pilots “could not have failed to see the Russian aircraft, as it was coming in to land from a height of 5km (three miles). Nevertheless, they deliberately carried out this provocation.”