'Working in close contact': Russian MOD says no incidents with other forces in Syria

The Russian military is working closely with Israel to ensure mutual flight safety over Syria, and is doing its utmost to avoid possible incidents involving the Israeli army and other militaries, the Russian deputy defense minister has told RT.

“Russian servicemen make sure that no incident involving the armed forces of any other country occurs," Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said. "We are working in close contact with the Israeli military and, naturally, no threat has been posed to them.”

He dismissed an unsourced report in Israeli national daily Yedioth Ahronoth that claimed a Russian fighter aircraft engaged Israeli jets over Syria “at least twice” and were scrambled to intercept another Israeli warplane “for an unknown reason,” establishing no contact and letting it carry on its way.

“The Russian and Israeli military agencies set and coordinated all the guidelines and parameters for working in the region long beforehand,” Antonov told RT on the sidelines of an ASEAN-Russia defense ministers’ meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting, the first of its kind, was attended by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Southeast Asian counterparts. High-level delegations have convened in Moscow to discuss enhanced military-to-military ties and to boost the security partnership between Russia and the region.

The senior military official added that a “reliable security system” has been developed by the Defense Ministry at Russia’s Khmeimim airbase which “detects potential threats while operating in a fully automated mode.”

Yedioth Ahronoth failed to provide any detail on the time or location of the alleged encounters between the Russian and Israeli warplanes, giving no indication of whether the Israeli planes were hit.

According to the newspaper report, the alleged issue was first raised with Russian President Vladimir Putin by his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, who visited Moscow in mid-March.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on the report, saying “in this case it is far away from reality.”

Russia and Israel have set up a military-to-military hotline to prevent mid-air collisions, near misses and other flight safety violations. Israel is partially engaged in the long-running Syrian conflict, carrying out airstrikes on what it says are suspected arms supplies to Lebanon’s Hezbollah rebels. The Israeli Air Force is also said to have targeted top Hezbollah operatives.

Last year, when Russia's anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) operation was in full swing, a senior IAF officer told the Times of Israel that dangerous incidents with Russian jets are avoided by “the simple mechanism of talking by phone.”

“Russia is not the enemy; on the contrary, our planes are trying to avoid friction with the Russians, and they are trying to avoid friction with us.”

Last November, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon reiterated on Israel’s Army Radio that there is no hostility between the two militaries: “Russian planes do not intend to attack us, which is why we must not automatically react and shoot them down when an error occurs.”