Putin dials back the rhetoric against Israel after downing of surveillance plane but still vows action

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday appeared to dial down hostile rhetoric blaming Israel for the downing of a Russian air force surveillance plane this week, saying that the blame rests with the Syrian air defense crew that fired on it.

Initially, the Russian Ministry of Defense pointed a finger squarely at Israel, claiming Israeli F-16s that had been sent to bomb Iranian targets inside Syria used the Russian Il-20 as “cover,” knowing that it would paint a larger radar picture to Syrian air defense crews than the smaller fighters.

“It looks like a chain of tragic circumstances because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet,” he said, as reported by Israeli news site Haaretz.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Putin to express his condolences over the downing of the reconnaissance plane. But he reiterated Israel’s intent to continue to deny Iran safe space in Syria because Tehran is using its influence with the Assad regime to bolster its military presence in the country to threaten Israel.

As Haaretz reported:

Putin’s comments were a shift in tone after Russia accused Israel earlier of a “hostile provocation” in striking the Syrian port city of Latakia, which led to the downing of a Russian military plane with 15 servicemen on board.

When asked about comparisons to Turkey’s downing of a Russian aircraft in 2015, Putin said: “This is a different situation. The Turkish fighter jet knowingly downed our plane.”

Analysis: So that’s it, right? Hardly.

Putin’s dialing down of the rhetoric is an effort to mask his intentions. He — Russia — still has the same foreign policy interests in Syria as he did before the plane was shot down, and those aren’t going to change anytime soon.

When journalists asked him about the much more hostile statement of his Defense Ministry, which also vowed a retaliatory response, Putin stated clearly that it was “fully coordinated” with him (of course it was). 

He defined what ‘retaliatory’ meant. “The retaliatory measures will be directed above all to boosting the security of military men and installations in Syria,” he said. “These will be measures everyone will see.” 

In our assessment of the shootdown and subsequent ‘retaliatory’ rhetoric, we wrote

Now there is nothing left to do but see what Russia’s response will ultimately be. 

Whatever it is, it won’t be a Russian withdrawal from Syria. If anything, Putin will bolster his forces there and make it expensive for Israel to conduct future strikes.

That appears to be precisely what Putin is doing: He’s going to make it more difficult for Israel to conduct future attacks against Iranian (and Syrian) forces inside Syria that are aligned with Moscow. And he’s going to do it in a way that is transparent — easily seen and verifiable, via intelligence means — so that Israel gets the message loud and clear.

This will complicate things immensely for Israel because Netanyahu’s foreign policy and national security objectives are not going to change, either. Iran, its proxies (Hamas and Hezbollah) and, to a lesser extent, Syria, remain enemies of the Jewish state. 

Netanyahu will continue to target Iranian military assets inside Syria if he believes they represent a threat. Putin, alternately, has said if Netanyahu does that, Israel is liable to pay a price because Putin’s first responsibility is to protect his own forces.



2 Comments on "Putin dials back the rhetoric against Israel after downing of surveillance plane but still vows action"

  1. The IDF was borderline NUTS to use the Il-20 as cover for their own warplanes; they have stand-off missiles with ranges more than great enough to not risk the Russian plane which had a legitimate right to be there in the first place.

    I am honored to have friends who have served with the IDF and I have donated to Israel’s well-being but this action was just wrong.

    One minute warning to a propeller-driven airplane low on fuel to clear from an imminent attack? Come on!

  2. This was not right using a Russian propeller-driven plane as cover to attack a target in another country no matter who or what…I support and fund Israel but this one minute window for a propeller-driven plane low on fuel and lawfully present to clear an imminent airstrike against an AA-fortified target is nuts or devious…

    15 Russian airmen were killed, how can duressed Syrian defenders be excoriated just for trying not to die?

    Israel you are better than this, please.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: