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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Jet Violated Israeli Airspace -- But Israel Did Not Shoot It Down
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Over the weekend a story began to circulate, confirmed by both the Russian and Israeli press, that recently a Russian aircraft violated Israeli airspace at least once but was safely escorted away. Though Israel has shot down a Syrian jet in the last year, and though Israel regularly bombs positions inside Syria held by the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and/or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Israel's Defense Minister said that they are cooperating with the Russians to avoid similar incidents. Times of Israel reports:

On Saturday, Amos Gilad, director of the political-security bureau in the Defense Ministry, said at a public event in Beersheba that Russia has breached Israeli airspace more than once since it began intervening in Syria, but that the close security coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow had prevented any incidents like the one on the Turkish-Syrian border last week.

“Russian air force pilots at times cross into Israeli airspace. [But] thanks to the excellent security coordination [between Israel and Russia], which started right after the meeting between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Putin [two months ago], and in which defined areas of operation were set, the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian military agreed on security arrangements,” Gilad said.

In Sunday’s interview, Ya’alon also described the manner of Israeli-Russian cooperation with regards to Syria. “From the beginning, of course, [the Russians] notify when they are nearing our territory; it’s part of the coordination channel and we don’t hamper them from acting and we don’t interfere as a policy,” he said. “This is what happens in Syria and it’s good that it’s like that, they also don’t hamper us from flying and acting according to our interests.”

The Associated Press has slightly different details -- there was only one cross border incident -- but that an agreement had been reached with Russia to ensure that no planes are shot down:

Ya’alon told Israel Radio that after Russia announced its air campaign in Syria, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, along with his military chief of staff and other officials, met with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and later opened a channel for coordination with Russia “to prevent misunderstandings”.

He said there has been one incident so far of a Russian plane entering Israeli airspace and it was “immediately corrected in the communications channel”. He didn’t say when it occurred.

Ya’alon said: “Russian planes don’t intend to attack us and therefore there is no need to automatically, even if there is some kind of mistake, shoot them down.” has a statement from Putin on the meeting with Netanyahu which confirms that there is some sort of agreement on a framework of communications between the two countries (translated by The Interpreter):

I would like to note that the mechanism for cooperation between [our] militaries created at your initiative in connection with the worsening of the situation in the region is functioning fairly successfully.

Is there a deal between Israel and Russia that goes beyond communications? Probably not. The reality is that Israel has thus far been able to strike inside Syria whenever it wants. Russia's opposition would significantly complicate that. But Israel could also put up significant resistance to Russia's air campaign, especially if Turkey or NATO were also working to stop Russian flights.

Israel has worked hard to remain somewhat neutral in the conflict, though it is clear that they would like to see Assad leave power and the conflict end. It is not likely to change its policies, as Israel's injection into this conflict would even further complicate an already messy regional political crisis.

-- James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick