Liberman: Syria Responsible for Downed Russian Plane

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking on Army Radio Thursday, the Israel defense minister said that he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the incident Monday night that saw a Russian military plane shot down by Syrian missiles was a “tragic mistake,” but “it was a mistake that was committed by the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad. They have some irresponsible and unprofessional people who were on duty when the plane was downed. Israeli planes were already back in Israeli territory when it happened.”

Liberman’s comments echoed an IDF statement on the matter that was released Wednesday night. In the statement, the army said that the incident’s genesis was in an attack by Israeli planes on a Syrian facility in the Latakia area. The statement said that Israeli planes had targeted a Syrian base “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it.”

After the attack, a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 military reconnaissance plane “disappeared,” according to Russian officials.

Images released Wednesday night by ImageSat International show that the Israeli mission was successful. The images show a warehouse in Latakia, measuring 135 by 55 meters, sustaining extensive damage. Among the destroyed items in the area of the warehouse is a Boeing 747 with clear Iranian markings.

In the interview, Liberman said that “we generally do not make statements about the activity of our air force, but we do everything we can to protect Israeli citizens. We will do everything we can to prevent Iran from establishing itself in Syria and from transferring weapons to Hezbollah.”

The initial statement issued by Russian officials blamed Israel for the incident, as it was in response to an Israeli air strike that the Syrians fired the antiaircraft missiles that downed the Russian plane. The Russian plane was, according to both Israel and Russia, hit by Syrian antiaircraft fire, but the Israeli planes had “used the Russian airplane as a cover,” endangering the Russian plane and placing it “in the line of fire coming from Syrian air defense systems,” the Russian statement said.

The statement was later softened by comments from Putin, who said in a statement that “it looks most likely in this case that it was a chain of tragic chance events, because an Israeli aircraft did not shoot down our aircraft. But, without any doubt we need to seriously get the bottom of what happened.”

News agencies quoted Putin as telling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a conversation Tuesday that Israel needed to be more careful and avoid such situations in the future.

Liberman said he could understand the initial Russian comment. “We do not judge a person in the midst of their suffering. We also expressed regret over the death of the people on the Russian plane. The commander of our air force is on his way to Russia, where he will share information on the incident. This incident is due to the overconfidence of the Syrians. We have acted and will continue to act. We have been operating for several years on a policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of Syria, but we cannot sit back and watch that country become a forward base for Iran,” Liberman said.