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Russia may respond to Il-20 tragedy by closing Syrian air space, says expert

According to the expert, Israel often uses "far-fetched excuses"

MOSCOW, September 24. /TASS/. Moscow could adequately respond to the downing of Russia’s Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea by closing Syria’s air space, Science Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Science Vitaly Naumkin told TASS, commenting on the information released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday.

According to him, everything depends on whether Israeli authorities "will be ready to accept the blame, apologize for the Il-20 crash and punish those responsible." "All in all, I think that the interests of Russia and Israel will make the two countries search for ways to reach an agreement and resume cooperation," the expert noted.

"However, some measures will definitively be taken in Syria. In particular, closing the country’s air space would be an adequate step," Naumkin went on to say. "The 200 attacks on facilities in the Latakia province that Israel carried out are actually too much. It is harmful for Russia’s reputation and also damage the success Russia has already achieved there," he noted.

According to Naumkin, Israel often times uses far-fetched excuses. "Russia has done a lot for Israel. It includes the withdrawal of the pro-Iranian and Shia units from the Syrian-Israeli border," the expert said, adding that "Russia got a tragedy in return."

"I am sure that all the necessary measures will be taken to ensure the safety of Russian military personnel and our allies in Syria," he said. "In particular, there will be strong restrictions against the flights of Israeli aircraft over Syria and a new way of cooperation in the deconfliction field between Russia and Israel," Naumkin added.

Dialogue difficulties

When speaking about the possibility of rising tensions in the Middle East following the Russian aircraft crash, the expert pointed out that Russian-Israeli relations may sour. "On Sunday, Russia’s Defense Ministry presented information about this tragic incident, as well as clear conclusions and evidence proving Israel’s guilt," he stressed.

Naumkin noted that a part of the Syrain air space was closed, a number of questions would arise. "How will other countries react, including the US and Turkey? Who will this decision apply to? Will it apply to all the foreign states? A lot of legal and practical issues will arise," he said.

"I believe the dialogue that has already begun has proved to be difficult as no consensus has been reached yet, so the ball is currently in the Israel’s court," the Russian expert concluded.

Downing of Il-20 aircraft

The Israeli Air Force and those who made the decision to use the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 aircraft as cover are solely to blame for its crash in Syria on September 17, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing on September 23.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, on September 17, contact was lost with a Russian Il-20 aircraft flying over the Mediterranean Sea back to the Russian Hmeimim air base in Syria. The ministry said the aircraft had disappeared from radar during an airstrike four Israeli F-16 fighter jets carried out on targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

On September 18, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Il-20 aircraft had been accidently downed by Syrian air defenses as the Israeli F-16 jets had been using it as cover. According to Konashenkov, Israeli pilots "could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometers." The ministry added that it considered such actions by Israel to be hostile.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces claimed in a statement that "when the Syrian Army launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane, IAF [Israeli Air Force] jets were already within Israeli airspace."

A number of experts believe that Russia may mull the possibility of replacing Syria’s S-200 air defense complexes with the S-300 complexes. In 2010, Moscow announced a plan to do that but its implementation was postponed as it caused Israel serious concerns. If Damascus gets the S-300 complexes, the Syrian military will be able to completely control the country’s air space.