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Russian Plane Enters Israeli Airspace; Israelis Refuse to Open Fire

In this case Israel shows how to properly handle a mistaken airspace violation

Originally appeared at the The Guardian

A Russian jet recently entered Israeli airspace but was not shot down thanks to an open communication system between the two countries, Israel’s defence minister has said, as tensions continued to flare between Ankara and Moscow after Turkish troops shot down a Russian warplane.

Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said the plane entered about one mile (1.5km) into Israeli airspace by mistake and immediately turned around back to Syria when the Russians were notified. For two months, Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in support of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

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.”

Putin has called for economic sanctions against Turkey, including a ban on some goods and extensions of labour contracts for Turks working in Russia from 1 January 2016. He also called for an end to chartered flights from Russia to Turkey, for Russian tourism companies to stop selling vacation packages that would include a stay in Turkey, and for an end to visa-free travel between Russia and Turkey, and tighter controls of Turkish air carriers in Russia. The decree was issued “to protect Russian citizens from crimes”, a Kremlin statement said.

The decree came hours after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, voiced regret over the incident, saying his country was truly saddened by the event and wished it hadn’t occurred.

Ya’alon explained on Sunday that the Russians notify Israel ahead of time when they plan to get close to the country’s airspace.

“Just as we don’t interfere with their operations and we don’t get involved, as a policy, in what is happening in Syria, they also don’t interfere with us flying and acting in accordance with our interests,” he said.

Israel is believed to have carried out airstrikes on several weapons convoys in Syria heading for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon. Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006. 

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the airstrikes, but has said it will not allow sophisticated or “game-changing” weaponry to reach anti-Israel militant groups.

Israel has been carefully monitoring the Syrian war since it erupted in March 2011. While relations with Syria are hostile, the ruling Assad family has kept the frontier with Israel quiet for much of the past 40 years.

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