A team of high level Israeli military officers is in Moscow today for talks with Russian counterparts after the accidental shootdown of a Russian jet earlier this week was initially blamed on Israel. Thursday’s meeting gives Israeli officials the chance to present evidence showing they weren’t responsible for the incident and, perhaps more importantly, to shore up a complicated, but thus far durable, relationship in which Russia and Israel have coordinated military actions in Syria despite backing opposing sides in the conflict.
Leading the team is Israeli Air Force chief, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin. He’s joined by Brig. Gen. Erez Meisel, Head of the IDF’s Foreign Relations Division, along with senior Air Force and intelligence officers. The delegation reportedly has evidence concerning the events Tuesday when Syrian air defense forces, allied with Russia and using Russian missiles, shot down the Ilyushin-20 surveillance plane killing 15 crew members on board. Some of that evidence was teased in briefings earlier this week. According to an article in Haaretz Thursday:
A debriefing on Tuesday morning which included the prime minister, defense minister, IDF chief of staff and senior Israel Air Force officers indicated that the Israeli fighter jets were already over Israeli airspace when the Syrian rockets were fired.
The IDF spokesman said that an initial investigation showed the Syrian barrage to be wide-ranging and imprecise. The Syrians did not make sure the Russians had no planes in the air. The Russian aircraft was hit as it flew east of Latakia – in other words, farther away from where the Israeli rockets were fired (in this, Israel is rejecting the Russian claim that Israeli fighter jets were hiding behind the Russian aircraft and led to its targeting).
Breaking with its standard protocol of not discussing military operations, Israel recently acknowledged carrying out more than 200 airstrikes in Syria over the past two years. Most of them aimed at Iranian linked targets including Hezbollah.
Russian military officials initially accused Israel of causing the shootdown Tuesday in a “deliberate provocation,” by using the Russian jet as a shield to launch air strikes inside Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin struck a more conciliatory tone than the statements from his military spokesmen, calling the incident the “result of a chain of tragic circumstances.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Putin before Yom Kippur on Tuesday. During their call, Netanyahu reportedly placed all responsibility for the incident on Syrian forces, while also expressing hope for continued military cooperation with Russia.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah released his own statement on Thursday, denying that Israeli airstrikes had any impact on his group’s ability to receive arms shipments. “All your attempts to prevent Hezbollah from possessing accurate missiles are foiled,” Nasrallah said during a video speech to commemorate the Muslim holiday Ashura. Again, addressing Israel, the Hezbollah leader said, “no matter what you do to cut the route, the matter is over and the resistance possesses precision and non-precision rockets and weapons capabilities.”