JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has provided Moscow with proof it bore no responsibility for bringing down a Russian plane in Syria, an Israeli military official said on Friday.
Fifteen Russian crew were killed when an IL-20 surveillance plane crashed near Latakia in northern Syria on Monday. Russia has said Syria shot the plane down shortly after Israeli jets hit a target in the area.
Initially the incident appeared likely to cause friction between Israel and Russia, with the Defence Ministry in Moscow accusing Israel of indirectly causing it. But President Vladimir Putin later called it “a chain of tragic, chance events.”
An Israeli delegation led by its air force chief this week presented Moscow with its findings on the incident, “including recordings of the conversations between the Israeli air force and the Russian air force component in Syria,” said the Israeli official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
“We proved how the Syrian reckless anti-air fire was the direct cause of hitting the Russian aircraft. They fired quite recklessly and irresponsibly and unprofessionally into the air long after our planes were no longer there,” the official said.
More than 20 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were fired during the incident, the official said.
“Our Russian counterparts had a few questions, those questions were answered,” the official said. “Our impression is that the discussions were professional and that the information was well accepted.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry was initially critical of Israel, saying it had only given Moscow one minute’s warning before its jets attacked, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in cross-fire.
But the Israeli official said: “We definitely gave a warning, a time much longer than one minute. We acted in accordance with the standard operating procedures that are in place with the Russian military.”
Any dispute between Israel and Russia could lessen Israel’s ability to carry out air strikes inside Syria against what it regards as the greatest threat to Israel’s security from the country’s civil war - build-ups of Iranian forces or those of Iran’s Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah.
Since intervening in Syria in 2015, Russia has usually turned a blind eye to Israeli attacks. Israel has launched about 200 such raids in the last two years, Israeli officials say.
The Israeli official said the meeting in Moscow was an opportunity to improve the mechanism the countries have been using to avoid unintended confrontations.
“But our freedom of movement is paramount ... The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) will continue to implement our strategic interests,” the official said.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Stephen Farrell, William Maclean