Both Jerusalem and Washington warned Russia on Monday evening against its declared intention to provide the Syrian military with advanced surface-to-air missiles within two weeks, saying the move would further destabilize the region and increase already high tensions.
Israel’s high-level security cabinet was set to meet Tuesday morning to discuss the latest developments involving ties with Russia, in the aftermath of last week’s downing of a Russian plane by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli airstrike.
Russian President Vladimir Putin informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the decision to provide Syria with the S-300 system in a phone call Sunday.
In response, according to a statement by Netanyahu’s office, “The prime minister said providing advanced weapons systems to irresponsible actors will magnify dangers in the region, and that Israel will continue to defend itself and its interests.”
Concurrently US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Russia’s decision was a “major mistake” that would cause a “significant escalation” of tensions. He urged Moscow to reconsider.
Channel 10 News quoted a senior American official who noted that the system could endanger US Air Force jets operating against Islamic State in Syria.
“The information provided by the Israeli military… runs counter to conclusions of the Russian defense ministry,” the Kremlin said of the content of Putin’s remarks in the call, adding that the actions of the Israeli pilots had led to the plane being targeted by Syrian air defense systems.
“The Russian side proceeds from the fact that the actions by the Israeli air force were the main reason for the tragedy,” a statement said.
Last Tuesday, by contrast, in a previous Putin-Netanyahu call, the Russian president had absolved Israel and blamed a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
Netanyahu’s office said Monday night that, in the call, he had “expressed his confidence in the credibility of the IDF probe and its conclusions, and stressed once again that responsibility for the unfortunate incident lay with the Syrian army that brought down the plane, and with Iran, whose aggression destabilizes [the region].”
At the same time, it said, Netanyahu had “once again expressed his condolences for the deaths of the Russia soldiers.”
The statement added that the two leaders agreed to “continue talks between professional teams and coordination between the armies through military channels.”
The Kremlin earlier Monday issued a devastating critique of Israel over the incident, accusing Israel’s air force of “premeditated actions,” and warning the incident would harm relations between the two countries.
“According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov produced data collected by Russian air defense systems in Syria purportedly indicating that one of the Israeli F-16 fighter jets was flying close to the much larger Russian plane. When the F-16 was targeted by a Syrian missile it suddenly veered off, resulting in the missile homing in on the bigger target.
Konashenkov also said that data showed that the Israeli jets remained over the Mediterranean Sea off Syria’s coast after the Russian plane was downed, though Israel has said its fighters were long gone by the time the Syrian missiles were launched.
The Russian defense ministry had announced the upcoming transfer of the S-300 earlier in the day, saying Moscow would “transfer the modern S-300 air defense system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks.”