“We believe that the blame for the Russian Il-20 aircraft tragedy lies entirely with the Israeli Air Force,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday, after days of blame shifting over the downing of a Russian military plane off the Syrian coast last week.
On Sept. 17, a Russian reconnaissance plane carrying 15 crew members was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire responding to an Israeli missile strike on a facility in Latakia. All 15 Russian crew members aboard the aircraft were killed, prompting a strong rebuke from Russia and appearing to cause friction between Israel and Russia.
The Defense Ministry in Moscow initially accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident, charging that an Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, leaving the Russian aircraft in the line of fire. But Russian President Vladimir Putin later called it “a chain of tragic, chance events.”
Israel, meanwhile, placed the blame squarely on Syria.
In a detailed account of the events leading up to the incident, the Russian Defense Ministry accused Israel on Sunday of using the Russian aircraft as cover for its attack on a Syrian facility.
In its report, the Russian Defense Ministry revealed previously undisclosed radar data and communications between Russian and Israeli figures, and concluded that “the military leadership of Israel 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,” Russian news network RT reported.
According to Konashenkov, the Israeli Air Force left the Russian aircraft “virtually no time for any safety maneuvers, in a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements.” His remarks rested on claims by Russian officials that Israel provided “less than a minute” of warning before launching its strike. Israeli officials have dismissed this claim, with one official telling Israel Hayom it was “much more than one minute.”
In a briefing Sunday, Konashenkov said that the Israeli warning also failed to specify the exact target of the strike, citing only a planned strike on “industrial facilities” in northern Syria. The spokesman called this “misinformation,” and said it prompted the Russian command to order its reconnaissance plane back to base, where it came under Syrian fire.
“Once the Syrian air defenses responded to the initial strike, the Israeli jets switched on radar jamming and pulled back, apparently preparing for another attack. One of the jets then approached the Syrian coast – and the Russian plane that was preparing to land,” Konashenkov said, explaining that the Russian plane could easily appear to the Syrians as part of the Israeli attack and insisting that the Israeli pilots “must have been well aware” of this.
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