TEL AVIV – Israeli and Russian military officials will meet in a bid to fix fraying ties between the two countries in the wake of the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
“In the past three years Israel has been very successful in preventing both the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria and the attempts to transfer lethal weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is not to say that there haven’t been exceptions but all in all there has been very great success. We did this with maximum and successful security coordination with the Russian military,” Netanyahu told reporters before boarding a flight to New York for the UN General Assembly.
“Since the tragic events in the skies over Syria I have spoken twice with President Putin. I expressed to him our deep regret over the loss of the crew of the Russian plane that was brought down by irresponsible Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” he said.
“We give full backing to the IDF in its actions to defend the state. We will continue to take action to prevent the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria and we will continue the security coordination between the IDF and the Russian military,” he added.
“We will do whatever is necessary to protect Israel’s security,” the prime minister concluded.
Last week, Syrian air defenses accidentally shot down a Russian military reconnaissance jet while Israel was carrying out an airstrike on a munitions facility in Latakia. 15 crew members were killed.
Russia accused the Israeli pilot of using the plane as a shield to avoid Syrian surface-to-air missiles but Israel has denied the charge, adding that Russia was notified of the raid in advance.
“According to information of our military experts, the reason (behind the downing) were premeditated actions by Israeli pilots which certainly cannot but harm our relations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
On Sunday, Putin informed Netanyahu that Russia would provide Syria with S-300s.
Netanyahu’s office responded, “The prime minister said providing advanced weapons systems to irresponsible actors will magnify dangers in the region, and that Israel will continue to defend itself and its interests.”
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Russia’s move was a “major mistake” that would generate a “significant escalation” of tensions.