Israel’s air force commander was set to lead a delegation to Moscow on Thursday to share the military’s findings on the Syrian downing of a Russian warplane following Israeli airstrikes.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed Israel for the incident, which was the worst case of friendly fire between Moscow and his regime since Russian forces intervened in the war-torn country in late 2015.
The Russia-bound delegation, led by Commander of the IAF Major General Amikam Norkin, will “present the situation report … regarding all aspects” of the incident, the Israeli army said in a statement on Wednesday, September 19.
It will also provide information on “Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to the Hezbollah terror organization and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria,” the statement said.
The Commander of the IAF will be joined by the Head of the International Cooperation Unit, Brig. Gen. Erez Maisel, as well as additional officers of the Intelligence Directorate, the IAF and the Operations Directorate
— Israeli Air Force (@IAFsite) September 19, 2018
Syrian air defenses shot down the Russian military plane on Monday, killing all 15 soldiers aboard, after Israeli missiles had struck the coastal region of Latakia.
Israel has vowed to stop its arch-foe Iran, which backs the Assad regime, from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria.
Earlier this month, it acknowledged having carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months, mainly against Iranian targets.
After Monday’s incident, the Russian military accused Israeli pilots of using “the Russian plane as a cover, exposing it to fire from Syrian air defences.”
Israel denied the allegations, saying its jets were already back in its airspace when Syrian forces launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane.
In a letter to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, Assad offered his condolences for the deaths after the Ilyushin-20 electronic signals intelligence aircraft was downed by Syria’s Russian-made S-200 air defense system.
“This unfortunate incident was the result of Israeli arrogance and depravity,” the Syrian leader said.
“We are determined that such tragic events will sway neither you nor us from continuing the fight against terrorism,” he added in the letter published by the official Sana news agency.
‘Tragic accidental circumstances’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “sorrow” to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday, offering to assist Moscow in the investigation.
However, he insisted the Russian plane had been felled by “extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft [fire].”
Putin had said the incident was the result of “tragic accidental circumstances,” warning Netanyahu against carrying out such operations in the future.
He also pledged to beef up security for Russian forces in Syria, which three years ago stepped in to support Assad whose grip on power had been weakened by rebels and jihadist fighters.
Israel has admitted to striking Syria to prevent what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an armed movement backed by Iran and which fights alongside Syrian troops.
On Wednesday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said the Shiite movement would stay in Syria “until further notice.”
“We will remain there even after the Idlib accord,” Nasrallah said, referring to a Russia-Turkey deal to prevent a Syrian regime offensive on the country’s last rebel-held stronghold.
With reporting from AFP