WASHINGTON — War is hell, it has often been said for good reason. There are times, however, when it is also ironic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may be feeling both of those emotions on Tuesday along with a few others, after the Syrians — Moscow’s theoretical ally in the Middle East — used a Russian S-200 surface-to-air missile defense system to down a Russian military plane on Monday.
All 15 aboard the plane perished when the Il-20 jet was struck 22 miles off the coast. The plane was returning to the Russian base near the Syrian city of Latakia, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
Russia blamed Israel for the shoot down, charging an Israeli strike at Iranian targets in Syria triggered that nation’s semi-automatic defense system. Since Russia was not given enough advance warning of the attack by Israel, its plane was caught in a crossfire and downed by one of the missiles, Moscow charged.
“The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense,” Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in the statement. He said the fatal S-200 missile had been aimed at four Israeli F-16 fighter jets that were attacking targets late Monday.
Russia has two military bases in Syria, including the one close to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it “targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” according to a statement to the media. “These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it.”
The IDF statement noted that the Syrian missiles that downed the Russian plane only went into action after Israeli jets had returned to Israeli airspace.
Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters Tuesday that the U.S.-led coalition did not know in advance of the Israeli attack plans. “We did not have any visibility on that to my knowledge,” Ryan told reporters, via a tele-link from Baghdad.
In April, when the U.S., the United Kingdom and France struck Syria in retaliation for Damascus using chemical weapons, the Syrian air defense system did not kick in until after the attack was concluded.