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Syria fired missiles for 40 minutes after Israeli strike, hitting Russian plane

The Israeli report into the downing a Russian plane off the coast of Syria during an Israeli airstrike on Monday runs some 40 pages in English and Russian and shows that Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired dozens of barrages indiscriminately for 40 minutes after the initial Israeli attack.

In a highly unusual move, the IDF acknowledged the airstrike and released some of the findings of its initial investigation, which concluded that Syrian air defense units fired without aiming and “did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.”

The IDF’s initial findings were presented in recent days by top Israeli officials, including the head of its air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, to their Russian counterparts in Moscow, and both Israel and Russia said Syria, not Israel, was responsible for the downing of the plane, although Moscow has been publicly critical of Israel over the incident.

According to the Israeli report, initially publicized by the Ynet news site, the “deconfliction mechanism,” a coordination system between the IDF and Russian forces meant to prevent friendly fire incidents over Syria, followed the usual procedure before the strike, as it had done in more than 200 attacks over the past two years.

The report says Syria’s military then activated several anti-aircraft batteries deployed throughout the country, firing for over half an hour, long after the Israeli planes had returned to their base. The Syrians fired dozens of missiles of various types, including the SA-5, a large, advanced missile which downed an Israeli plane over the Galilee in February, Ynet reported.

The Israeli delegation pointed out to their Russian counterparts that the fundamental issue — one likely to repeat itself — is the change in Syrian behavior since it hit an Israeli F-16 fighter in February.

Until then, the Syrian batteries would fire a few isolated missiles at the Israeli planes. Sometimes they only operated one battery, assuming that their missiles would do little against the Israeli air force.

However, after hitting the Israeli plane in February, which was the first time that an Israeli fighter jet was downed by enemy fire since the 1982 Lebanon war, the Syrians became more energetic in their efforts, and deployed for the purpose new and advanced missile batteries from Russia.

Since then, every Israeli attack was met with dozens of anti-aircraft missiles. The culmination was during “Operation House of Cards” on May 10, when Israel struck more than 50 Iranian targets across Syria, and the air force was targeted with about 170 Syrian anti-aircraft missiles.

In Israeli strikes since, Syria’s military has each time fired a large number of anti-aircraft missiles. Syria and Russia also have a coordination system to avoid friendly fire incidents, but according to the IDF report, errors in coordination between those two countries led to the downing of the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft and the killing of its 15 crew members.

The incident began Monday night, when the Israeli Air Force conducted an airstrike against a Syrian weapons facility near the city of Latakia, which Israel said was being used to store and transfer advanced munitions to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.

The Israeli raid triggered a response from the Syrian military’s air defenses, which failed to hit the IAF jets but shot down the Russian surveillance plane.

The downing of the plane sparked an initial flurry of condemnation from Moscow, which accused Israel of using its plane for cover during the attack and failing to notify the Russian military ahead of time.

In a Tuesday phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin absolved Israel of direct responsibility for downing the plane, which he blamed on a tragic chain of accidental circumstances, but warned that Israel should ensure it not recur.

Since that call, however, other officials in Moscow have again strongly criticized Israel over the incident.

Israeli officials, fearful of losing the close defense cooperation with the Russians that has allowed the IDF to operate over Syria against Iranian and Iran-linked forces, launched a full diplomatic push.

The Israeli delegation to Moscow shared intelligence regarding Iranian efforts to establish a permanent military presence in Syria and to transfer advanced weaponry to terrorist groups in the region, the army said.

“The meetings were held in a positive spirit. There was professional, open and transparent dialogue on various issues, and an emphasis was put on the importance of the two nations’ interests and the continuation of a deconfliction mechanism,” the IDF said.

[Source: By TOI Staff, The Times of Israel, Tel Aviv, 21Sep18]

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