No Fly Zone over Syria not excluded – Downed Il-20 military aircraft tests Russia’s patience
Putin absolves Israel of guilt for deadly incident, but tensions grow amid conflicting claims
An incident in Syria that Russian President Vladimir Putin has described as a “tragic chain of circumstances” has put Israel in a tight spot, leading to questions about whether Moscow will continue to give the country free reign over parts of Syria’s airspace.
“Israeli fighter jets attacked Iranian-related targets in Syria. Syrian aerial defenses tried to thwart the Israeli attack and accidentally hit a Russian Air Force plane with a Russian-made missile,” Amos Harel wrote for Haaretz in summary of the Israeli account of events, which, he noted, sounds like the start of a bad joke.
But the consequences of the mishap, which led to deaths of Russian crewmembers of the downed Il-20 plane, could be serious for Israel and might jeopardize its strategic freedom in Syria, Harel argues.
For starters, the incident is an embarrassment for Moscow, which only begrudgingly admitted that Russian-made weapons fired by allies downed the aircraft, leading to the deaths of its crew.
But the Russian defense ministry still blamed Israel for using the Russian Il-20 aircraft “as cover.” That claim is contradicted by the Israeli account that its jets were back in home airspace by the time of the incident.
Putin later toned down the Russian response, suggesting the deaths were the result of a “tragic chain of circumstances.”
What the Russian president’s words mean in practical terms remains to be seen. Harel speculates that Russia might demand earlier warnings before strikes, enforce a no-fly-zone near certain bases, or supply more advanced air defense systems to Assad’s army.
If Moscow wants to demonstrate a hard line this time around, Harel argues, it is capable of disrupting Israel’s freedom of action over Syria.
Yakov Kedmi, a former high-ranking Israeli intelligence official, told Sputnik.
“There was an agreement between Israel and Russia that the actions of Israel in Syria’s airspace would not endanger lives of Russian troops. Israel breached this commitment… What happens next will depend on the position of Israel. Most likely, Israel will no longer be able to enjoy the same freedom in the sky of Syria as it did before the incident,” Kedmi said.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) earlier in the day that Israel would share all information on the incident with Moscow. The IDF expressed regret over the deaths of the Russian troops and put the blame on Damascus and Tehran.
“Israel’s attack in itself, regardless of the consequences, was an irresponsible step, because there is not a single facility on the territory of Syria that might have been used by Iran and whose destruction would have justified an attack on it, which could endanger the Russian troops,” Kedmi said.