Netanyahu calls Putin to blame Syria for downing of Russian plane


(JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told President Vladimir Putin of Russia that Syria was squarely to blame for the downing of a Russian military plane, and said he hoped Israeli-Russian military coordination would continue.

Netanyahu’s statement describing his phone call Tuesday with Putin — issued just before the start of Yom Kippur in Israel — came after Russian officials blamed Israel for downing the plane on Monday. Fifteen Russian troops were killed.

In the statement, Netanyahu expressed “regret” for the deaths.

“The responsibility of downing the plane is Syria’s,” it quoted Netanyahu as telling Putin.

“The prime minister emphasized the importance of continuing the security coordination between Israel and Russia that prevented many losses in the last three years,” the statement said.

In blaming Israel, Russian officials said Israel used the Russian reconnaissance aircraft as cover for an alleged Israeli airstrike on a Syrian air base near Latakia.

“Such actions can only be classified as a deliberate provocation,” Russia’s Ministry of Defense said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador on Tuesday afternoon, according to The Times of Israel, citing the Russian state media.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it launched such an attack. Israel rarely comments on such reports.

The Russian Defense Ministry statement said Israel only gave Russia a minute’s warning before the attack and said it was considering a response to Israel for triggering the plane’s downing.

“We regard the provocative actions of Israel as hostile,” the statement said. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian servicemen were killed. This is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to adequate response.”

Netanyahu in his statement said he was ready to cooperate with Russia to demonstrate Syrian responsibility for the downing.

“The prime minister said in the conversation that Israel is prepared to hand over to Russia all the necessary details for an investigation of the event, and proposed sending the [Israeli] Air Force commander to Moscow to deliver the fullness of the necessary details,” the statement said.

And while Netanyahu did not acknowledge the Israeli attack, the statement underscored Israel’s determination to keep Iran from expanding its influence and presence in Syria.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel is determined to prevent Iran’s military establishment in Syria, and the attempts by Iran, that calls for Israel’s destruction, to transfer to Hezbollah deadly weapons targeting Israel,” the statement said.

Syria’s seven-year civil war is winding down, with the Assad regime emerging triumphant thanks to its allies — Russia, Iran and Iran’s proxy militia in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Israel has called on the United States and Russia to ensure Iran’s departure from Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing condolences to Russia, did not mention Israel but emphasized the urgency of reining in Iran.

“Yesterday’s unfortunate incident reminds us of the need to find permanent, peaceful, and political resolutions to the many overlapping conflicts in the region and the danger of tragic miscalculation in Syria’s crowded theater of operations,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It underlines the urgent need to resolve the Syrian conflict … and to end Iran’s provocative transit of dangerous weapon systems through Syria, which are a threat to the region.”

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