In a social media post Thursday, the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv placed the blame for the death of 15 Russian soldiers in Monday’s downing of a reconnaissance plane squarely on Israel. “Moscow views as irresponsible and unfriendly actions of Israeli Air Force,which exposed Russian Il-20 aircraft to danger and lead to death of 15 servicemen,” the post said, reflecting a statement Tuesday by Russia’s Defense Ministry, which said that Israel’s actions in attacking a Syrian base that housed Iranian weapons that were to be shipped to Hezbollah had “endangered” the Russian plane, with Israeli fighters “using the Russian airplane as a cover” and placing it “in the line of fire coming from Syrian air defense systems.”
Both those statements were at odds with comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, absolving Israel of responsibility for the strike. Putin was quoted Wednesday as saying 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.” With that, news agencies quoted Putin as telling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Israel needed to be more careful and avoid such situations in the future.
The incident on Monday, in which Israeli planes hit a Syrian facility in the Latakia area, caused an apparent chain reaction that led to the firing of antiaircraft missiles by Syrian forces after the Israeli planes had already left the area. The facility housed Iranian weapons that were to be sent to Hezbollah; images released Wednesday night by ImageSat International show a warehouse in Latakia, measuring 135 by 55 meters, sustaining extensive damage, with a Boeing 747 with clear Iranian markings among the heavily damaged items in the area.
A report Thursday in the London-based Arabic-language A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper said that one of the reasons the weapons Iran sent to the Latakia area was because it did not believe Israel would strike there, because of the heavy Russian presence in the area and Israel’s desire to avoid endangering Russian operatives in Syria.
In a statement Wednesday night, Netanyahu said that Israel was “determined to prevent the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Iran calls for Israel’s destruction and transfers deadly weapons for use against Israel to Hezbollah.”