The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador Tuesday afternoon, state media reported, as Moscow fumed over the Syrian downing of a military plane that it said was the result of an Israeli “provocation.”
The summons came hours after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman that Moscow was holding Israel fully responsible for the downing of the aircraft and threatened possible “countermeasures,” amid fears the incident could send ties between Moscow and Jerusalem spiraling.
A spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment.
According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, Israeli jets carrying out an airstrike on a Syrian target in Latakia used the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane as cover. Syrian air defenses attempting to repel the attack hit the Russian plane, which had 15 Russian service members on board.
Israel, which does not normally acknowledge specific strikes in Syria, has refused to comment on the incident.
“We consider these provocative actions by Israel as hostile. Fifteen Russian military service members have died because of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military. This is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership,” the Russian military said in a statement, according to Russia Today, a Kremlin-linked news outlet.
In the phone call, Shoigu told Liberman that Russia “reserves the right to further countermeasures” against Israel, according to the state-run Interfax news outlet.
Shoigu added that the “actions of the Israeli Defense Ministry fail to match the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” according to Interfax.
“Israel was repeatedly asked not to deliver strikes on Syria endangering Russian personnel,” Interfax quoted Shoigu as telling Liberman.
Liberman’s office confirmed that the minister had spoken with Shoigu, but said it “would not comment beyond that.”
The Russian government spokesperson refused to comment when asked if Russian President Vladmir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would speak about the matter.
It was not immediately clear how the downing of the Ilyushin Il-20 plane would affect the ongoing cooperation between Israel and Russia in Syria.
A Kremlin spokesperson said the situation was being “analyzed” in light of the incident, according to Interfax.
Despite being allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran, Russia has mostly turned a blind eye to reported Israeli attacks on Syrian and Iranian facilities in the country.
The Israeli and Russian militaries maintain what they call a “deconfliction mechanism,” which is meant to coordinate their activities in Syria in order to avoid incidents like this one. Until Monday night, these efforts had largely succeeded in preventing direct or indirect clashes since Russia became more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war three years ago.
According to Moscow, at approximately 10 p.m., four Israeli F-16 fighter jets approached western Syria from the sea and fired dozens of missiles at the facility, a Syrian defense ministry subsidiary with ties to the country’s chemical weapons and missile programs.
Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told the state-run TASS news agency that Israel knew the reconnaissance plane was there and used it as cover to carry out the airstrike.
“By using the Russian plane as a cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system,” Konashenkov said.
The S-200 air defense system is manufactured by Russia and sold to Syria. In February, the same type of system was used to shoot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet that was taking part in airstrikes in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was flown into Israeli airspace from a Syrian air base earlier in the day.
Syria’s state media had reported Monday night that a state company for technical industries was bombed, likely by Israel, triggering their air defenses.
Two people were killed in the strike and eight more were injured, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the target appeared to be an ammunition depot, part of the company’s compound. The war monitoring group said it was not clear if the depot was for Iranian or Syrian forces.