Moscow demands 'further inquiries and explanations'

In apparent about-turn, Russian embassy tears into Israel for downing of plane

Diplomatic mission blames ‘irresponsible and unfriendly actions’ of IAF for Syrian air defenses’ deadly targeting of aircraft

The Russian Embassy on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv. (Google maps)
The Russian Embassy on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv. (Google maps)

Russia’s embassy in Tel Aviv on Thursday excoriated Israel for the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli strike, pinning the blame squarely on the Israeli Air Force. This, despite the fact that on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had absolved Israel of direct responsibility for the incident.

“Moscow views as irresponsible and unfriendly actions of Israeli Air Force, which exposed Russian Il-20 aircraft to danger and lead to death of 15 servicemen,” the mission wrote in a scathing statement on its Twitter account.

It added that “Russia would take all necessary measures to eliminate threat to life and security of our military fighting against terrorism.”

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry later Thursday maintained the criticism of Israel, demanding “further inquiries and explanations” from Israel regarding the incident.

An Israeli army delegation led by Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin headed to Moscow Thursday morning to present the IDF’s findings on Monday’s incident.

Though Russia’s military initially blamed Israel for Monday’s downing of the Russian plane, saying the IAF jets used it as cover, Russian President Vladimir Putin later said the downing of the plane on Monday was due to a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.” He absolved Israel of direct responsibility but warned Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that such an incident should not be allowed to recur.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility near Latakia involved in providing weapons for Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and has insisted it warned Russia of the coming raid in accordance with deconfliction agreements.

Syria accidentally shot down the Russian plane when its air defenses swung into action against the Israeli strike. The plane was downed by Syria’s Russian-made S-200 air defense system and all 15 crew members were killed.

An Ilyushin Il-20M reconnaissance plane takes off at Kubinka air force base near Moscow, Russia, on February 19, 2014. (Artyom Anikeev/iStock/Getty Images)

The statement from the Russian embassy came as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman blamed “irresponsible and unprofessional” Syrian air defense operators for downing the Russian surveillance plane. He also said despite Russia’s anger over the incident, Israel would continue to operate in Syria in order to fight Iran’s activities in the country.

Israel has been increasing its strikes inside Syria, acting against Iran and Hezbollah’s growing influence there.

Despite not holding Israel responsible for the downing of the Russian jet, Putin warned that Russia will respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria,” and Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.

Earlier Thursday, an Israeli military delegation led by Norkin flew to Moscow to present the IDF’s findings on Monday’s incident, while a newspaper in Cyprus reported that Russia effectively sealed off much of the airspace and waters surrounding the country, increasing its activities in the area following the downing of the spy plane.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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