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Russia’s Claims on Downed Plane Over Syria Are Dubious, but Will Usher in New Reality for Israel

Russia’s Claims on Downed Plane Over Syria Are Dubious, but Will Usher in New Reality for Israel

The Russian Defense Ministry’s scathing report, which placed the full responsibility for the downing of the Ilyushin plane over Syria last week on Israel, should not surprise anyone in Israel – except maybe for a few foolish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu cannot make the problem disappear. Russia suffered an embarrassing blow when Assad’s anti-aircraft fire shot down the plane, and it still has widespread interests to promote in Syria. It was rather clear that the affair would lead to a Russian condemnation of Israel and to certain demands, even though the bottom line still depends on Putin’s decision.

Moscow cannot accuse the main culprit responsible for the incident – its ally, the Assad regime (although it is amazing to see that blame for the Syrian anti-aircraft forces does not even appear in the Defense Ministry’s official statement). It was therefore clear from the beginning that the responsibility would be placed on Israel. It is also interesting that all the blame is directed at the Israel Defense Forces, which the Russians accuse of being unprofessional or “criminally negligent, at the very least.” The Israeli political leadership is not mentioned, except for one general claim regarding Israel’s dangerous offensive policy in Syria.

The Russian inquiry’s credibility is rather dubious. Some of the claims included in its announcement are strange. For instance, the Russians claim Israel gave them a warning of only one minute, and it is surprising that Israel has not stated the real number, a much longer period of time. According to experienced Israeli pilots, the claim that the Israeli warplanes hid behind the Russian intelligence gathering plane is unreasonable and does not fit in with accepted operational conduct.

The accusation that Israel supposedly deceived the Russians about the location of the planned attack also seems illogical. According to Russia, the Israeli air force informed it about an attack in northern Syria, while the attack occurred in western Syria. In reality, Latakia is located in north-west Syria, as even a quick glance at a map of the country will reveal. And because the military coordination has been working successfully for three years now, during which hundreds of Israeli attacks have taken place, it is hard to believe that the two sides have yet to make clear between them some basic terminology.

The Russian announcement focuses mostly on the tactical level and does not include imposing any sanctions against Israel. Russia accuses Israel of ungratefulness in light of the steps it has taken on behalf of Israeli interests, such as distancing Iranian forces from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights (the Russians say they succeeded in distancing them to a far point, 140 kilometers away, while in reality it is 85 to 100 kilometers, a buffer zone that does not include Damascus, where Iranian soldiers still remain).

On the strategic level, it is likely that Putin – who has the final word on the Russian side – will leverage these serious claims in the Defense Ministry report to demand increased diplomatic coordination with Israel in Syria, and to impose stricter rules for the joint military coordination mechanism between the two countries.

Brig. Gen. Assaf Orion of the Institute for National Security Studies estimates that the price Putin will demand from Israel may come from another direction: Insisting on selling advanced anti-aircraft systems to Syria, despite Israel’s opposition. Alternatively, he could also pressure Netanyahu to help ease tensions between Russia and the United States. In the meantime, the IDF Spokesperson issued a statement Sunday rejecting the main points of the Russian investigation but promising to maintain security coordination between Israel and Russia.

The practical test for the relations between the two countries is sure to come soon, when a new intelligence warning pops up about an Iranian attempt to smuggle arms into Lebanon on a route near the Russian bases in northwestern Syria, or to establish a new military site. Because Iran is determined to continue with its arms shipments to Hezbollah, and Israel has stated publicly that it stands on its right to attack such shipments, Jerusalem is bound to face a dilemma: Should it attack once again near the Russians and risk increased tensions with them?

This is not the end of an era for Israel’s military operations in Syria, where it has conducted hundreds of attacks in the north over the past six years. But for now, it looks as if the situation on the northern front will also not return fully to the conditions that existed there before the Russian plane was shot down.

Israel has operated freely in northern Syria for years thanks to the combination of offensive actions and good diplomatic relations with the Russians. Mostly, Israel acted with strategic acumen, achieving a large part of the goals it set for itself.

But Israel is not a superpower and is not invincible. It will have to take into account Russian considerations and maybe even adapt its offensive operational model. From conversations I conducted with senior defense officials, it seems they ascribe great importance to the implications of the latest incident. Those who continue to claim that this is just a mild bump to the wing must be so busy defending Netanyahu’s image that they are simply no longer capable of analyzing reality objectively.

Ian Greenhalgh
{p}Ian Greenhalgh is a photographer and historian with a particular interest in military history and the real causes of conflicts.{/p}{p}His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.{/p}{p}His favored areas of study include state sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.{/p}

8 Replies to “Russia’s Claims on Downed Plane Over Syria Are Dubious, but Will Usher in New Reality for Israel

  1. For this article to be accurate, it means several things. 1)The Russians have to be telling several lies…big ones. They have to be lying about the actual co-operation they have with Israel…they claim out of 200 sorties, Israel fully complied only 25 times. Their entire narrative on the timing has to be completely faked…as it shows the Israelis were not in Israeli air space at the time, as Israel claims. They have to be lying about the target area they say that Israel gave them, strange Israel has not denied that AFAIK. They also have to be lying as to the actual placement of aircraft at certain times. Which means their entire presentation would have to be fabricated.

    1. 2) This a article puts much emphasis on Israeli pilots statements and basically declares them trustworthy, re; warnings and tactics. Ians assertion that this arrangement has worked well for 3 years is somewhat disingenuous, as there have been many criticisms of Israeli actions, by the Russians. Their tactic of using civilian airliners for cover has been discussed before, it is not a new tactic for them. Lebanon has complained of this before. The only reason this ‘agreement’ has held together, in my mind, is that Russia has bent over backwards to keep the animosity at a low level. It is well known that the Russian military is at odds with Israel and their actions. 3) Then there is the involvement of the French and British. Are the Russians also lying (along with the Israelis) that the French fired missiles,

    2. Even the Israelis claim the French fired missiles. Then there are the reports of British planes in a holding pattern, as if waiting for a signal? There is an article on Fort Russ that is much more likely and brings all the actors and actions together…especially if this event is viewed as an ambush.

  2. If the article has merit, could Russia be using Israeli long established tactics by conducting its own false flag event. Were there any Russian engineers on board the plane as stated? It is hard for Israel to defend against this accusation and opens the International and UN door to finally point the finger at Israel’s long list of UN criminal resolutions that it simply ignores. Whatever the truth Israel has finally lost the control of the narrative and has been pushed from an aggressive position to that of defensive. Russia retains the right to strike at Israel if it so chooses and the media has been primed that it is within its rights to do so without world condemnation. Interesting turn of events.

  3. Well, the Russians are now claiming to have conclusive proof of the culpability of the Israeli planes, are they not ? Not being natives of Salisbury, the Russians would presumably expect to produce such conclusive evidence to non-Russians?

  4. Yes, very strange event. IL-20 first was re-routed from Chmeimini’s airport approach South and South-West,
    before bearing North-North East towards Chmeimini again – no doubt their IL267-Moskva-1 airborne target
    detection system might register Israel’s F-16 leaving Israel. Perhaps Il-20 possessed, in addition to
    passive info gathering equipment, also active disruptors of air launched missiles control systems and was
    “re-routed” perhaps to prevent or diminish Israel’s activity in that tense geo area. As such it would present
    legit. target for incoming F-16s. The strangely repeated claims, that SAA S-200, picked up “fatter” target
    in front of F-16 doesn’t jive w. used technology. The IFF system, used on Buks (S-200) since early 80ties-
    and by now no doubt improved, is designed to prevent “friendly fire” casualties. S-200 system “painted”
    no doubt F-16 (IFF Mode S – target signature). “Squawk4 digit code” (FLIR) is given for the rocket to be
    launched. If friendly IFF transponder (Mode4) signals it’s presence in the trajectory of the rocket –
    such is not possible to launch! If however already launched, but senses friendly transponder, it immediately
    self-destruct! Yes, something might have stopped i.e. IL-20’s transponder, but unlikely – so the suspects
    may be F-16s or mysterious rocket launch from French frigate Aubergne, nowhere yet established if
    ground-air? (unlikely).

    1. Hope, that closure of that part of Med. Sea would enable Russians either recovery of the IL-20 debris or full
      assessment on the bottom of the sea, to determine the cause/ the weapon which downed Iljushin.
      Though even if F-16’s air to air missile w. Israeli’s markings would be found, would bet we would never
      hear about it, given lovey-dovey relation between Vlad and Bibi!
      Alas, why the present Russian warships in the area did not employ its anti aircraft systems? What did system Krasukcha-4 (range 300km) do? Why Pantsir’s were not used (low activity altitude)? Why Russian
      non-combat aircraft is not fully covered by several fighter planes (Su35s, MIG 31)?

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