In a briefing Sunday on the downing of a Russian surveillance plane over Syria, for which it blamed Israel, the Russian defense ministry gave a minute-by-minute rundown of events according to its inquiry into the incident.
All 15 members of the crew on board the IL-20 were killed after it was hit by a missile as Syrian air defense forces tried to ward off an Israeli attack on a Syrian military facility in Latakia.
The Israeli military has said the Russian reconnaissance plane was shot down as a result of indiscriminate Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The IDF, which has carried out numerous strikes in Syria as it seeks to prevent Iran establishing a military presence there, and to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terrorist group, has insisted its planes left the area before Syria fired its missiles and did “not hide behind any plane.” Officers said the Russians were warned 12 minutes ahead of the strike, and given accurate information on the area to be targeted.
The Russian defense ministry rejected the findings of the IDF relating to the incident and insisted that the Israeli pilots who conducted the raid were aware that the Russian Ilyushin IL-20 aircraft was likely to draw anti-aircraft missiles, covering their assault — something Israel has repeatedly denied.
Below is a chronology of the events, as provided by Russian defense ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.
- On September 17 at 8:31 p.m., the Russian Il-20 survey aircraft started a special survey mission in the Idlib deescalation zone. It had 15 Russian servicemen on board.
- At the same time, four Israeli F-16 jets scrambled from Israel to carry out a sudden attack against industrial facilities in Syria. The F-16 jets flew over the Mediterranean Sea and began to patrol an area 90 kilometers west of Latakia.
- At 9:39 p.m. a colonel of the Israeli Air Force informed the Russian Command in Syria through the deconfliction channel of the upcoming missile strike. She said that in the next minutes Israel would attack facilities in north Syria.
- A minute later, at 9:40 p.m., four Israeli F-16 jets dropped bombs targeting the industrial facilities in Latakia province. Thus the Israeli side informed Russia of its operation not in advance, but simultaneously with the beginning of the strikes, breaching the existing agreements. These actions constitute a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements to prevent clashes between our armed forces in Syria reached by the joint working group.
- The representative of the Israeli Air Force headquarters reported on the targets assigned to the Israeli aircraft in north Syria. The dialogue was held in Russian. The Russian Defense Ministry has a record of the talk. [However] the Israeli jets delivered strikes not in the north of the Syrian Arab Republic but in Latakia region which is the western province of the country.
- The Il-20 commander received an order to leave the mission area, move to the south and return to base. The misleading information provided by the Israeli officer about the area of strikes did not allow the Russian Il-20 to be taken to a safe area.
- At 9:51 p.m. the Syrian air defense forces started to repel the Israeli attack and launched anti-aircraft missiles. After the strike, the Israeli jets again patrolled 70 kilometers west off the Syrian coast, set up jamming and probably prepared to attack again.
- At 9:59 p.m. one of the Israeli airplanes started maneuvering toward the Syrian coast approaching the Il-20 that was coming to land. Syrian air defense units considered it another attack. The Israeli pilot certainly realized that the Il-20 airplane had a much larger radar cross-section than that of the F-16 jet, and it was the Russian aircraft that would be the preferred target for the anti-aircraft missile. Moreover, the Israeli military also knew that Russia and Syria use separate friend-or-foe systems, and Syrian radar would thus likely identify the Il-20 as part of the group target of Israeli jets.
- At this time, the Il-20 airplane’s maneuver for final approach toward the Hmeimim air base turned out to be in the path of Syrian air defense systems targeting the Israeli jets.
- It is to be stressed that the Israeli jets saw the Russian Il-20 and used it as cover to evade anti-aircraft missiles, and carried on maneuvering in the region.
- At 10:03 p.m. a Syrian anti-aircraft missile engaged the larger and closer target – the Il-20 airplane. The commander reported being under fire and an emergency descent. At 10:07 p.m. the Russian Il-20 survey airplane went off the radar.
- The Israeli jets did not leave for their airspace but stayed in the region and continued patrolling in the air till 10:40 p.m.
- At 10:29 p.m. an officer of the Russian group in Syria reported to the Israeli officer at the Air Force Command: “As a result of the attack carried out by the Israeli side, the Russian Il-20 aircraft is in distress. We demand that Israeli aircraft leave the region as we engage our rescue forces.” An Israeli officer replied that he had received the information and would forward it to the command.
- Only at 10:53, which is 50 minutes after the Il-20 was hit by a missile, an officer of the Israeli Air Force command center came on the radio and reported: “We got your information on the Il-20 in distress. We left the zone. If you need assistance, we are ready to help.”
- The presented objective data testifies that the actions of Israeli fighter pilots, which led to the loss of 15 Russian servicemen, prove either a lack of professionalism or criminal negligence. Israel either does not appreciate the level of relations with Russia, or does not control individual commands and commanders who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy.