As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepares for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, a disclosure about a near-shootdown underscored the need for close cooperation.
Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon said that the Israeli air force almost shot down a Russian jet heading toward Israeli airspace at the outset of Russia’s entry into Syria in September 2015, in an interview with Russian RIA Novosti news reported by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“At the very beginning of the Russian presence [in Syria], there was a case where one Russian pilot almost crossed our border over the Golan Heights. If it was a Syrian plane,we would have shot it down,” Yaalon said.
Fortunately, the IAF identified the aircraft as Russian not Syrian in time to avoid disaster. Israel alerted the Russian-operated Khmeimim Air Base in Syria that if the plane did not change course it would be shot down.
“The issue was resolved immediately,” he said.
The incident spurred Israeli and Russian official to set up procedures, including a hotline, to make sure there would be no repetition of the near miss.
“When, at the time of my being defense minister, we realized that Russia had decided to send its aircraft to Syria and later deployed S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, I invited the Russian military attaché in Tel Aviv to my office and told him: ‘We know that you are planning to deploy troops to Syria. We are not going to interfere in the Syrian conflict. But we have our own interests there – red lines. Do not bother us, and we will not interfere with you,’” Yaalon recounted.
The bilateral coordination has been successful, he said, and no similar incidents have occurred since.