A Russian electronic signals intelligence aircraft that disappeared from radar late Monday night was shot down by Syrian air defense systems responding to Israeli strikes in Latakia province, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said.
The Ilyushin-20 plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile after Israel launched strikes around 11 p.m. local time (2000 GMT), Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said in televised remarks on Tuesday, September 18.
Late Monday, a defense ministry official said the Il-20 aircraft went off radar while Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in the western Syrian province.
Israeli planes “used the Russian plane as a cover, exposing it to fire,” from Syria’s S-200 air defense system, Konashenkov said Tuesday.
Israel notified Russia via hotline a minute before the strikes, which did not allow enough time for the Il-20 aircraft to make it to the safe zone, Sputnik reported Konashenkov as saying.
The defense ministry spokesperson called the incident a “deliberate provocation” by Israel, and said Russia reserved the right to respond “appropriately,” Interfax reported.
In a phone call, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu told his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman that Moscow laid “full blame” on Israel for the downing and death of the service members, adding that Russia “reserves the right to future response measures,” the ministry said.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency reported a military source as saying that Syrian Arab Army air defense units had “responded to hostile missiles coming from the sea view towards the city of Latakia and intercepted a number of them before reaching their goals.”
It said that the missiles targeted the Technical Industries Corporation.
A search-and-rescue mission is underway but the ministry said 15 Russian service members were killed and no one is expected to have survived.
Israel rarely comments on strikes it carries out in Syria, and the IDF initially refused to acknowledge the strike. In a later statement, the military said it regretted the deaths of the Russian crew, and placed full responsibility for the incident on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, with “Iran and Hezbollah as partners in this unfortunate event.”
“IAF fighter jets attacked a Syrian military facility from which they were about to transfer systems for the manufacture of accurate and lethal weapons for Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon,” the military said.
Its initial investigation found that “extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused damage to the Russian plane” and caused it to crash. IAF planes had already returned to Israeli territory by the time the S-200 hit the Il-20, the IDF said.
“While the attack was being carried out against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was hit was not in the area of operation,” the military added.
The IDF said Israel will provide the Russian government “with all the information necessary to clarify the incident.”
Moscow previously said that, around the same time as the Israeli strikes, “radars fixed missile launches from the French frigate Auvergne, which was in that area.”
France has denied any involvement with the incident.
This is a developing story and will be updated.