General Amidror: It was not our mistake, and we did whatever was needed to prevent any harm to any Russian forces.
By Henry Meyer
The Kremlin reacted coolly to a condolence telegram from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent two days after his forces downed a Russian military plane, while Moscow toned down its initial criticism of Israel over the incident.
Israel dispatched its air force chief to Moscow to put ties back on track. The downing late Monday, which killed 15 Russia servicemen, triggered an angry statement from the Defense Ministry blaming Israel, whose aircraft were attacking when Syrian forces fired the missile that hit the Russian Il-20.
But the Kremlin quickly softened its line, with President Vladimir Putin calling it the result of “a chain of tragic coincidences.”
Assad’s telegram to Putin expressed his “deep condolences” for the servicemen’s deaths and blamed Israeli “aggression.” Asked Thursday if Russia was satisfied with Syria’s message, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said only, “the telegram has been received,” Tass reported.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday further investigation is needed to establish what happened and Russia is awaiting information from the Israeli side. Russia has “strong, historical ties” with Israel, she told a weekly briefing Thursday.
Israel dispatched General Amikam Norkin to Moscow Thursday to provide more details on the events.
Norkin’s mission in Moscow is to “convince the Russians it was not our mistake, it was not prepared deliberately and we did whatever was needed to prevent any harm to any Russian forces,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security advisor who’s now a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.
“It may be that after the tragic loss of life and the downed plane, Russia-Israel relations will grow thicker,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said on Twitter.
The incident is the latest setback for Syria in its dealings with Russia after a deal struck earlier this week between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that put on hold a Russian-backed Syrian offensive to recapture the last major rebel-held bastion in Idlib.