Tensions between Israel and Russia increased dramatically on Tuesday after Russia lost contact with one of its military planes during an Israeli attack in Syria.
Russia’s TASS news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying: “The trace of the Il-20 on flight control radars disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province.”
Konashenkov said Israel’s actions put the Russian aircraft in the firing line of Russian-made Syrian air-defence systems, adding that they were “irresponsible”.
He said Russia, which is by far the most potent military force in the region, reserved “the right to an appropriate response,” without suggesting what that might be.
Israel, which is concerned about Iranian forces in Syria and weapons transfers to Lebanon-based militia Hezbollah, has maintained good military communications with Russia in recent years, with both countries operating in Syrian airspace.
As part of its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia operates the huge Hmeymim military airbase in Latakia, on the Syrian coast. The plane, which was carrying 14 people, was returning to the base from the Mediterranean Sea late on Monday night when contact with the electronic surveillance aircraft was lost.
On Tuesday morning a search and rescue mission was launched about 20 miles from land, as Moscow sought answers from both France and Israel, whose forces are both active in the region.
At the same time as the Israeli jets attacked a site in Syria, Moscow said: “Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne, which was located in that region.”
France denied involvement, Israel refused to comment publicly on reports, and Washington blamed Russia’s Syrian allies for inadvertently targeting the plane. Technical problems with the plane have also not been ruled out.