Hezbollah-linked outlet claims Russia rejected Israel’s findings on downed plane

Israel denies unsourced report by Al-Mayadeen that says Moscow wants new inquiry into Syrian military’s destruction of Russian spy aircraft and killing of its 15 crew

A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location. ( AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)
A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location. ( AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)

A Lebanese media outlet closely tied to the Hezbollah terror group claimed Friday that Russia has rejected the findings of Israel’s preliminary inquiry into the downing by Syrian air defense batteries of a Russian surveillance plane flying off the Syrian coast on Monday night.

The unsourced report offered as evidence the lack of explicit Russian agreement with Israel’s findings, and asked if there is a shift underway in Moscow towards limiting Israel’s freedom of operation in the skies over Syria.

An Israeli official later Friday dismissed the report as false.

An Israeli army delegation led by Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin visited Moscow Thursday to present the IDF’s findings on Monday’s incident, in which a Syrian S-200 air defense missile downed the Russian plane while apparently aiming for an Israeli jet that had been carrying out an airstrike against a Syrian facility the IDF said was involved in transferring advanced arms to Hezbollah.

The Russian foreign ministry urged “further inquiries and explanations from Israel,” according to a report in the Russian Interfax agency on Thursday.

It also said “new information” on the incident would “emerge soon,” without elaborating.

Russia’s foreign ministry has partially blamed Israel for the incident, calling it a “provocation,” although President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday absolved Israel of direct responsibility and spoke of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” while Israel expressed sorrow over the deaths of the Russian servicemen but maintained Syria is to blame for shooting “indiscriminately” in response to the Israeli airstrikes.

On Thursday, Putin spoke with Israel’s deputy Knesset speaker MK Tali Ploskov (Kulanu), who was in St. Petersburg for a conference of female leaders in Europe and Asia, Ynet news reported. The two discussed the downing of the plane, and Putin reportedly told Ploskov that “there were many mistakes” leading up to the incident.

According to Hebrew media reports apparently originating with Ploskov, Putin also told her that he expected the incident to be fully investigated by Israel.

According to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Thursday, Maj. Gen. Norkin and his team presented Russian officials with “a full rundown of the event and all of its aspects, including the intelligence [that led to the Israeli strike] and the main findings of the IDF internal inquiry, as well as Iran’s ongoing efforts to provide strategic weaponry to Hezbollah and establish itself in Syria.”

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

According to the army, which took the rare step on Tuesday of releasing details about the strike, Israeli F-16 fighter jets conducted an air raid on a Syrian weapons facility near the city of Latakia on the country’s western coast on Monday night.

The Israeli military said the weapons at the site were going to be given to Iranian-linked and Hezbollah forces — something Israel has vowed to prevent.

During the strike, Syrian air defenses fired at the attacking aircraft and incoming missiles. According to Israel, the Syrian counterattack continued for some 40 minutes after the Israeli fighter jets had already concluded their strike. It was during this time that the Russian spy plane was said to have been shot down.

Israel and Russia maintain close coordination about each other’s activities in and above Syria in order to avoid such incidents. The Israeli military says it warned Russia in advance about the strike, while Moscow said it received notice “less than a minute” beforehand, preventing it from getting its troops out of harm’s way in time.

The Russian military and defense minister initially accused the Israeli pilots of using the IL-20 reconnaissance plane as “cover” during their attack and said that Moscow reserved the right to respond to the Israeli action.

Following a series of discussions between senior Israeli and Russian officials, Putin said he did not blame Israel for the downing of the spy plane and instead ascribed it to a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they prepare to deliver joint statements after a meeting and a lunch in the Israeli leader’s Jerusalem residence, Monday, June 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Jim Hollander, Pool)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that Israel would fully cooperate with Russia in its investigation.

“We are open to the Russians and are prepared to present them with all the information. We have nothing to hide. We acted as we always act,” the defense minister said.

Judah Ari Gross and Agencies contributed to this report.

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