Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon confirmed on Sunday that a Russian jet had breached Israeli airspace recently, and that the matter was “immediately fixed through communications channels” that exist between the two countries.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Ya’alon was asked about claims by a senior defense official that Russian jets had penetrated Israeli airspace, and whether the IDF had a policy for responding to such overflights in light of the recent downing of a Russian jet by Turkish warplanes last week.
“I remind you that about a year ago we shot down a Syrian Sukhoi-24 plane that penetrated into our territory, and we also shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle,” Ya’alon said. “When we understood that the Russians were planning to act inside Syria, we immediately met – also the prime minister – with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, including the [Israeli] chief of staff and the assistant chief of staff…we created an open channel for coordination so as to prevent misunderstandings, because Russian planes are not trying to attack us and therefore it is not necessary to automatically – even if there is a mistake – to shoot them down.”
Ya’alon said that there had been one breach in which a Russian plane had entered about one mile into Israeli territory, after which the Russians were “immediately contacted” and the plane “immediately returned to Syrian territory.”
On Saturday, Amos Gilad, director of the political-security bureau in the Defense Ministry, said at a public event in Beersheba that Russia has breached Israeli airspace more than once since it began intervening in Syria, but that the close security coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow had prevented any incidents like the one on the Turkish-Syrian border last week.
“Russian air force pilots at times cross into Israeli airspace. [But] thanks to the excellent security coordination [between Israel and Russia], which started right after the meeting between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Putin [two months ago], and in which defined areas of operation were set, the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian military agreed on security arrangements,” Gilad said.
In Sunday’s interview, Ya’alon also described the manner of Israeli-Russian cooperation with regards to Syria. “From the beginning, of course, [the Russians] notify when they are nearing our territory; it’s part of the coordination channel and we don’t hamper them from acting and we don’t interfere as a policy,” he said. “This is what happens in Syria and it’s good that it’s like that, they also don’t hamper us from flying and acting according to our interests.”
According to unconfirmed reports, Israel has attacked positions in Syria on a number of occasions, targeting primarily weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The IDF reportedly bombed Syrian regime and Hezbollah positions in the Qalamoun mountains late on November 23.
Israel is reported to have been behind a series of air raids on Syrian territory since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011.
During his meeting with Putin in September, Netanyahu said that he told Putin in “no uncertain terms” that Israel would not tolerate Tehran’s efforts to arm Israel’s enemies in the region, and that Jerusalem has taken and will continue to take action against any such attempts.
“This is our right and also our duty,” he said. “There were no objections to our rights and to what I said. On the contrary: there was readiness to make sure that whatever Russia’s intentions for Syria, Russia will not be a partner in extreme actions by Iran against us.”