The IDF rejected on Saturday the Russian Defense Ministry’s investigation findings on Syria’s downing of Russian plane, which concluded that Israel bears responsibility for the incident that killed 15 people.
According to the Russian report presented by the Defense Ministry, the IAF deceived the Russians by presenting false information regarding the area in which the strike in Latakia was planned on September 17 which prevented the Russian plane from leaving the danger zone.
"The IDF delegation, headed by Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, presented to senior Russian military officials the full IDF debriefing on the Russian plane downing by Syrian anti-aircraft missile,” read the IDF statement.
"The investigation was carried out and presented in a thorough, professional and detailed manner," it stressed.
The IDF went on to say that IAF planes were not in the Syrian airspace at the time of the incident.
"The full details, both precise and factual, are known to the professionals in the Russian military, who confirmed that a special hotline to prevent air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria was activated on time.
“The IAF did not hide behind any aircraft, and the Israeli planes were in Israeli airspace when a Syrian missile struck the Russian plane,” the statement exclaimed.
The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly accused Israel of using the Russian intelligence plane as a shield against Syrian anti-aircraft missiles because it is broader in size.
“The F-16 pilots used the Russian aircraft as a shield against Syrian air defense systems," said Russian defense minister and warned against being exposed to “false representations of the incident.”
The IDF also stressed the continuation of security cooperation between Israel and Russia is a mutual interest for both countries.
"The cooperation between the IDF and the Russian military has proved itself many times in recent years. It is a common interest for this cooperation to continue, especially in light of regional challenges,” the IDF statement went on to say.
“However, as this incident proves, equipping irresponsible bodies with advanced weapons is dangerous to the region and can cause serious damage to those who are operating in the area,” the IDF asserted in a statement.
The statement added that "the safety and security of the Russian forces operating in Syria” is an important issue for Israeli decision makers and the IDF, who consider location of the Russian forces every time an IAF operation is approved.
Nevertheless, the IDF emphasized that the Israeli interests in the region will be defended no matter the consequence.
“The IDF will continue to act in accordance with the political echelon’s instructions, in the face of Iran's unceasing attempts to establish itself in Syria and to arm Hezbollah with lethal and precise weapons,” the statement concluded.
For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Russia has provided key air support to President Bashar Assad's forces since 2015, while Israel has carried out dozens of strikes against Iran-linked forces. Israeli military officials have previously praised the hotline's effectiveness.
But ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov accused Israel, during Sunday’s press briefing, of using the hotline to mislead Russia about its plans. He said the Russians were unable to get the Il-20 to a safe place because an Israeli duty officer had misled them, telling them of an Israeli operation in northern Syria while the jets were actually in Latakia, in the country's west.
“The Israeli jets saw the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 and used it as a shield against the anti-aircraft missiles, while they carried on maneuvering in the region," said Konashenkov in Moscow.
It was also said that the heads of the IDF do not appreciate the relationship with Moscow.
"The military leadership of Israel either has no appreciation for the level of relations with Russia, or has no control over individual commands or commanding officers who understood that their actions would lead to tragedy," Konashenkov said in his minute-by-minute account.
"The actions of the Israeli fighter pilots, which led to the loss of life of 15 Russian servicemen, either lacked professionalism or were an act of criminal negligence, to say the least," he continued.
Russia has claimed since the attack that Israel gave the Kremlin less than one minute's notice before the attack, giving the plane insufficient time to fly to safety—"a clear violation of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements."
RT said in its report that the IDF "failed to provide the location of their jets or properly specify their targets, claiming they were going to attack several 'industrial facilities' in northern Syria, close to the Il-20’s area of operation.
"The misinformation prompted the Russian Command to order the recon plane back to the Khmeimim air base. The Israeli jets, however, instead almost immediately attacked the western Syrian Latakia province."
Konashenkov told journalists that after the initial Israeli strike in Latakia, the Israeli jets activated their radar-jamming systems and pulled back in preparation for another strike.
One of the jets, he said, then approached Latakia while the Russian aircraft was preparing to land.
“The Israeli pilot must have been well aware of the fact that the Il-20 has a much larger radar cross-section than his F-16, and would become a ‘preferred target’ for the Syrian air defense units, who use different friend-or-foe systems with the Russians,” the RT report paraphrased Konashenkov. “Thus, for the Syrians, the reconnaissance plane could appear as a group of Israeli jets."
According to Konashenkov, Israel's “negligent behavior” amounted to a what he described as flagrant violation of the very spirit of cooperation between the countries.