Russia warned Tuesday it may take action against Israel after one of its planes was shot down by Syrian forces.
Syrian troops hit the Russian Ilyushin-20 maritime patrol aircraft during clashes with Israeli forces late Monday. Russia’s defense ministry said fifteen people were killed in the incident, Reuters reported.
According to Russian authorities, the aircraft was caught in the crossfire between Syrian and Israeli forces while returning to the Hmeimim airbase, near the Syrian port city of Latakia. Syrian ground forces accidentally hit the Russian plane with an S-200 surface-to-air missile, though Moscow accused Israeli pilots of intentionally causing the incident.
“By using the Russian plane as cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, according to Russian state media outlet TASS.
Konashenkov described the incident as a “deliberately staged this provocation,” and accused Israel of failing to give Russian forces in the region enough time to withdraw before the attack began.
“A hotline warning was received less than one minute before the strike, which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety,” he said.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded by expressing “sorrow” over the 15 deaths, but said it wasn’t responsible for the aircraft’s downing.
Israel expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDFSpokesperson) September 18, 2018
According to Israel, the overnight raid targeted a Syrian government site used for the manufacture of “lethal weapons” bound for “Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
“These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the IDF said.
Israel maintained it warned Russia of the impending attack through a “deconfliction system,” and said it would work with Moscow to “confirm the facts.”
“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the IDF said.
Russia’s defense ministry has since stated it is already conducting a search operation for the remains of the aircraft, but warned it would “reserve the right for an adequate response.”
“We consider these provocative actions by Israel as hostile,” the ministry stated, according to RT.
“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.”
Russian Defence Ministry: Russian Ilyushin Il-20 plane was downed by Syrian Air Defence missile after Israeli F-16 pilots used it as cover thus setting it up to be targeted by AA defence. Such actions can only be classified as a deliberate provocation https://t.co/qBcqPz2en6 pic.twitter.com/21mTTNXmpd
— Russia in RSA ???????? (@EmbassyofRussia) September 18, 2018
Although Israel is officially neutral in Syria’s civil war, Israeli forces have conducted intermittent airstrikes in the war-torn country since at least 2013. In the past, Israel has stated its airstrikes have been aimed at Hezbollah-linked targets.
Russia officially entered the conflict in 2015, when it began its own strikes on Syrian rebels at the request of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to CNN, Russian airstrikes have accelerated in recent weeks, ahead of the Syrian government’s anticipated final offensive against remaining rebel groups.