Ukraine: Black box transcript confirms illegal interference with jet downed in Iran in January

KYIV (Reuters) – The transcript from the black boxes from a Ukrainian jet accidentally shot down by Iran on Jan. 8 confirm the fact of illegal interference with the plane, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Yevhenii Yenin said Kyiv was expecting an Iranian delegation to visit Ukraine next week for talks.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday an international team examining the black boxes from the jet had completed a preliminary analysis of the data in France.

“Grateful to all partners who helped bring this moment closer. Black boxes from #PS752 were read out and deciphered successfully. The transcript confirmed the fact of illegal interference with the plane,” Yenin wrote on Twitter.

Iranian forces say they downed the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 jet after mistaking it for a missile at a time of high tensions with the United States. All 176 people on board were killed.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this month that it was too soon to blame human error for the shooting down of the airliner and that many questions remained unanswered.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in February that Kyiv was not satisfied with the amount of compensation Iran had offered.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

‘Clerics get lost!’: Iran protests rage on over plane disaster

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

DUBAI (Reuters) – Protesters denouncing Iran’s clerical rulers took to the streets and riot police deployed to face them on Monday, in a third day of demonstrations after authorities acknowledged shooting down a passenger plane by accident.

Demonstrations, some apparently met by a violent crackdown, are the latest twist in one of the most serious escalations between the United States and Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution swept the U.S.-backed shah from power.

Video from inside Iran showed students on Monday chanting slogans including “Clerics get lost!” outside universities in the city of Isfahan and in Tehran, where riot police were filmed taking out positions on the streets.

Images from the previous two days of protests showed wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground. Gunshots could be heard, although the police denied opening fire.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who raised the stakes last week by ordering the killing in a drone strike of Iran’s most powerful military commander, tweeted to Iran’s leaders: “don’t kill your protesters.”

Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard, hours after it had fired at U.S. targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing on Jan. 3 of General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for the plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted its role.

Scores, possibly hundreds, of protesters were videoed at sites in Tehran and Isfahan, a major city south of the capital.

“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics,” they chanted outside a Tehran university, referring to Iranian students returning to studies in Canada who were on the plane.

‘DON’T BEAT THEM’

Videos posted late on Sunday recorded the gunfire around protests in Tehran’s Azadi Square. Wounded were being carried and security personnel ran gripping rifles. Riot police hit protesters with batons as people shouted “Don’t beat them!”

“Death to the dictator,” other footage showed protesters shouting, directing their fury directly at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader since 1989.

Reuters could not authenticate the footage. State-affiliated media has reported protests in Tehran and other cities but has provided few details.

“At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital’s police officers have been given orders to show restraint,” Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi said in a statement on state media.

Tehran’s showdown with Washington has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Iran and the proxy forces they support to wield influence across the Middle East. Sanctions imposed by Trump have hammered the Iranian economy.

Iran’s authorities killed hundreds of protesters in November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since 1979. In Iraq and Lebanon, governments supported by Iran-backed armed groups have faced mass protests.

Adding to international pressure on Tehran, five nations, including Canada, Britain and Ukraine, whose citizens died when the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed, meet in London on Thursday to discuss possible legal action, Ukraine’s foreign minister told Reuters.

In his latest tweet directed at Iran, Trump wrote on Sunday that “I couldn’t care less if they negotiate. Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters’.”

ESCALATION

Iran’s government spokesman dismissed Trump’s comments, saying Iranians were suffering because of his actions and they would remember he had ordered the killing of Soleimani.

Trump had precipitated the escalation with Iran since 2018 by pulling out of a deal between Tehran and world powers under which sanctions were eased in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Trump says he wants a more stringent pact.

Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate as long as U.S. sanctions are in place. It denies seeking nuclear arms.

The recent flare-up began in December when rockets fired at U.S. bases in Iraq killed a U.S. contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days, Trump ordered the strike on Soleimani.

Iran retaliated on Wednesday by firing missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed, but did not kill any Americans. The Ukrainian plane, on its way to Kiev, crashed shortly after. Most of those killed were Iranians or Iranian dual nationals. Scores were Canadians, many dual nationals who had traveled to Iran to visit relatives.

After days of denying responsibility, commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards issued profuse apologies. Iran’s president called it a “disastrous mistake”. A top commander said he had told the authorities on the day of the crash it had been shot down, raising questions about why Iran had initially denied it.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff, William Maclean)

Trump says Iran ‘made a very big mistake’ by shooting down drone

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen near a "3 Khordad" system which is said to had been used to shoot down a U.S. military drone, according to news agency Fars, in this undated handout picture. Fars news/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE.

By Parisa Hafezi and Phil Stewart

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said Iran made “a very big mistake” by shooting down a U.S. military drone that Tehran said was on a spy mission over its territory, in an incident that fanned fears of wider military conflict in the Middle East.

The United States, which called the event an “unprovoked attack” in international air space, is pursuing a campaign to isolate Iran to contain its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and limit its role in regional wars.

It was the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, since mid-May including explosive strikes on six oil tankers as Tehran and Washington have edged toward confrontation.

“Iran made a very big mistake!” Trump said in a Twitter post.

It was unclear how the United States might respond and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said Washington had no appetite for war with Iran.

Iran has denied involvement in the tanker attacks, but global jitters about a new Middle East conflagration disrupting oil exports have triggered a jump in crude prices. They surged by more than $3 to above $63 a barrel on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia, Washington’s main gulf ally, said Iran had created a grave situation with its “aggressive behavior” and the kingdom was consulting other Gulf Arab states on next steps.

“When you interfere with international shipping it has an impact on the supply of energy, it has an impact on the price of oil which has an impact on the world economy. It essentially affects almost every person on the globe,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters in London.

Tensions flared with Trump’s withdrawal last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and have worsened as Washington imposed fresh sanctions to throttle Tehran’s vital oil trade. Iran retaliated earlier this week with a threat to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.

U.S. MIDEAST FORCES

Upping the ante, Washington said on Monday it would deploy about 1,000 more troops, along with Patriot missiles and manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced after the May tanker attacks.

Iranian state media said the “spy” drone was brought down over the southern Iranian province of Hormozgan, which is on the Gulf, with a locally made “3 Khordad” missile.

A U.S. official said the drone, formally called an RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude, Long, Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System, had been downed in international air space over the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of the world’s seaborne oil exits the Gulf..

Navy Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, said Iran’s account that the drone had been flying over Iranian territory was false.

“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international air space,” Urban said. The drone, he added, was downed over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 2335 GMT – in the early morning hours of local time in the Gulf.

Separately, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity the debris field from the drone was in international waters in the Strait and U.S. naval assets have been dispatched to the area.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the drone had violated Iranian air space and warned of the consequences of such “illegal and provocative” measures.

Independent confirmation of the drone’s location when it was brought down was not immediately available.

A Iranian Revolutionary Guards statement said the drone’s identification transponder had been switched off “in violation of aviation rules and was moving in full secrecy” when it was downed, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.

IRANIAN “RED LINE”

“Our air space is our red line and Iran has always responded and will continue to respond strongly to any country that violates our air space,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

The RQ-4A’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, says on its website that it can fly for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes higher than 10 miles (16 km), with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

The Trump administration sought on Wednesday to rally global support for its pressure on Iran by displaying limpet mine fragments it said came from an oil tanker damaged in the June 13 attacks, saying the ordnance closely resembled mines publicly displayed in Iranian military parades.

European diplomats have said more evidence is needed to pinpoint responsibility for the tanker strikes.

The U.S. sanctions net draped over Iran, scuttling its oil exports and barring it from the dollar-dominated global finance system, have hammered Iran’s economy, undoing the promise of trade rewards from the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Trump has sent forces including aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers and troops to the Middle East over the past few weeks. Iran said last week it was responsible for the security of the Strait of Hormuz, calling on American forces to leave the Gulf.

Tehran has also said it will shortly suspend compliance with the nuclear deal’s curbs on its uranium enrichment, meant to block any pathway to nuclear weapons capability, and threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

But Trump – who sees the nuclear deal as flawed to Iran’s advantage and requiring renegotiation – and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have both said they have no interest in starting a war.

(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif, Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Doina Chiacu in Washinigton; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

Russian ‘fake news’ machine going mad, says French envoy to U.S.

FILE PHOTO: French Ambassador to the U.N. Gerard Araud addresses the Security Council during a meeting about the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at United Nations headquarters in New York, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s envoy to the United States on Tuesday accused Moscow of spreading fake news after Russia’s Defence Ministry said a French frigate in the Mediterranean had launched missiles on Syria.

The ministry initially said a Russian military plane had been shot down by Israeli warplanes and that Russian air control radar systems had detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne.

The ministry later said the aircraft had been shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems in what President Vladimir Putin said was the result of tragic and chance circumstances.

“Russian fake news machine getting mad: accusing the French to have shot down a Russian plane (in fact victim of a Syrian « friend(ly) » fire),” France’s ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud tweeted, in English.

French army spokesman Patrik Steiger denied that France had been involved in the incident or fired any missiles but several hours later Russian media continued to ask the question.

Quoting a military expert, Tass news agency said Paris was partly at fault after launching cruise missiles from the Auvergne.

France’s presidency, Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry had yet to respond officially to the Russian assertions.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Leigh Thomas)

Putin sees chance circumstances behind downing of Russian plane in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia September 18, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

By Darya Korsunskaya and Stephen Farrell

MOSCOW/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria’s seacoast was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier that the aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems, but accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident, saying Israeli jets operating nearby had put the Russian plane in the path of danger. The ministry threatened to retaliate over what it called a hostile act.

Putin’s comments, made after talks with Hungary’s prime minister in Moscow, appeared to somewhat defuse the situation though he said Russia needed to look further into what happened.

“I looks most likely in this case that it was a chain of tragic chance events, because an Israeli aircraft did not shoot down our aircraft. But, without any doubt we need to seriously get the bottom of what happened,” Putin told reporters.

The Russian president said Moscow’s response to the incident would aim at securing the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria’s complex civil war in which various outside powers have backed opposing sides.

“As for retaliatory measures, they will be aimed first and foremost at further ensuring the safety of our military personnel and facilities in Syria. And these will be steps that everyone will notice,” Putin said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, with 15 Russian service personnel on board, was brought down by anti-aircraft batteries of Moscow’s ally, Syria, in a “friendly fire” incident.

But the ministry said it held Israel responsible because, at the time of the incident, Israeli fighter jets were mounting air attacks on Syria targets and had only given Moscow one minute’s warning, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in the cross-fire.

“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”

ISRAEL BLAMES ‘INACCURATE’ SYRIAN FIRE

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expressed sorrow at the deaths but blamed the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah. “Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident,” the IDF said in a statement.

It said the initial Israeli inquiry into the incident found that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian surface-to-air anti-aircraft fire “caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed”.

“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the statement said.

It added that by the time the Russian plane was struck, the Israeli jets were already out of Syria and back in their own airspace. The Russian plane was “not within the area of the operation” carried out by the Israeli jets, it said.

An Israeli diplomatic source said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to speak shortly with Putin.

After the incident, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that Moscow held Israel wholly responsible, Russian news agencies reported.

Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over the matter, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

RUSSIAN BLIND EYE

Any row between Israel and Russia could restrict Israel’s ability to carry out air strikes inside Syria on what it considers the greatest threat to its security from the Syrian conflict – build-ups of Iranian forces or groupings of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.

Since intervening in Syria’s civil war in 2015, Russia has generally turned a blind eye to the Israeli attacks on these targets. Israel has conducted about 200 such attacks in the last two years, according to Israeli officials.

Amos Yadlin, Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said on Twitter the downing of the Russian plane could “limit the bid to stop Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the transfers of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.”

THREAT OF RETALIATION

Moscow said its plane disappeared from radar screens as it was coming in to land at the Hmeymim air base in western Syria late on Monday.

According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the Israeli F-16 jets carrying out the air strikes used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets on the ground without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

“Hiding behind the Russian aircraft, the Israeli pilots put it in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems. As a result, the Il-20 … was shot down by the (Syrian) S-200 missile system,” the ministry’s Konashenkov said.

He said the Israeli pilots “could not have failed to see the Russian aircraft, as it was coming in to land from a height of 5 km (three miles). Nevertheless, they deliberately carried out this provocation,” Konashenkov said.

“This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response,” he said, without giving details of what those measures would be.

The Israel military said that overnight its fighter jets had “targeted a facility of the Syrian Armed Forces from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon”.

It said the weapons targeted in the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia “were meant to attack Israel and posed an intolerable threat against it”.

The IDF statement said the “deconfliction” system used by the Israeli and Russian militaries “was in use tonight”, adding: “Israel will share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

Several countries have military operations under way around Syria, with forces on the ground or launching strikes from the air or from ships in the Mediterranean. In some cases, those countries are backing opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Foreign powers involved in the conflict – including Israel and Russia – operate hotlines to exchange operational details to avoid one side accidentally attacking the other’s forces.

However, diplomats and military experts have warned that the risk of inadvertent strikes is high.

(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; John Irish and Sophie Louet in Paris; Phil Stewart in Washington and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israel shoots down Syrian warplane as Golan frontier heats up

An explosion is pictured at Quneitra at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border, as seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, July 22. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Dan Williams and Lisa Barrington

JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israel said it shot down a Syrian warplane that crossed into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday, but Damascus said the jet was fired on as it took part in operations against rebels on Syrian territory.

The incident added new fuel to weeks of tensions over the Golan, a strategic plateau between the two old enemies and where Israel has been on high alert as Syrian government forces, supported by Russia, close in to regain rebel-held ground.

For the second time in as many days, Israeli sirens sounded on the Golan and witnesses saw the contrails of two missiles flying skyward. The military said it fired Patriot interceptor missiles at a Syrian Sukhoi jet that crossed 2 km (1 mile) into Israeli-controlled airspace, after first trying to warn it off.

“It was shot down and it crashed…most likely in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

“We do not have any information so far about the pilots. I do not know of any reports of parachutes being spotted, and we do not know if any pilots have been retrieved.”

Syrian state media said, however, that a Syrian warplane had been targeted by Israel and hit while conducting raids in Syrian airspace.

“The Israeli enemy confirms its support for the armed terrorist groups and targets one of our warplanes, which was striking their groups in the area of Saida on the edge of the Yarmouk Basin in Syrian airspace,” the official news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying.

Smoke trails from two Patriot missiles can be seen near the Israeli city of Safed in northern Israel July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Smoke trails from two Patriot missiles can be seen near the Israeli city of Safed in northern Israel July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

An Israeli military statement appeared to acknowledge that its mission was related to the civil war next door.

“Since morning hours, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria, including an increase in the activity of the Syrian Air Force,” the statement said.

It said Israel would “continue to operate against” any breach of a 1974 U.N. armistice deal that established buffer zones on the Golan.

Israel worries that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might try to defy the demilitarization regime or allow his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements to deploy near the Golan.

The raised Israeli-Syrian tensions have prompted intercession by Moscow, which sent its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and top general on Monday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli officials said Netanyahu rebuffed as insufficient a Russian offer to keep Iranian forces 100 km (62 miles) from the Golan lines.

Also on Monday, Reuters witnesses on the southern edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan saw numerous warplanes and helicopters in the skies over Syrian territory.

The aircraft were dropping bombs, apparently as part of a Russian-backed Syrian government push into areas previously held by anti-government forces.

Anti-aircraft fire could also be seen, targeting the warplanes.

In February, an Israeli F-16 jet was brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

That warplane crashed in northern Israel while returning from a bombing raid on what Israel said was an Iranian military installation in Syria. Both pilots ejected and were injured, one critically.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell; Writing by Dan Williams; editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)

Damascus warns Israel of ‘more surprises’ in Syria

An old military vehicle can be seen positioned on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel February 11, 2018.

DAMASCUS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will face “more surprises” should it again attack Syrian territory, Damascus said on Tuesday, after Syria’s air defenses shot down an advanced Israeli warplane during the fiercest flare-up between the old foes in 36 years.

The F-16 jet was hit over northern Israel on Saturday as it returned from a raid on a Syrian position blamed for launching an Iranian-made drone across the border. Iran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.

“Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised, because it thought this war – this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years – had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sussan said.

“God willing, they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.

The downed F-16 was the first warplane Israel has lost to enemy fire since its 1982 Lebanon war. Its two-man crew survived, with injuries, after bailing out of the stricken jet.

Israel retaliated by destroying around half of Syria’s anti-aircraft batteries, according to an initial assessment shared with Reuters by an Israeli official who requested anonymity.

Israel has said it will press ahead with missions in Syria, where it has launched scores of sorties against suspected arms transfers to Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

“There are no limitations, and nor do we accept any limitations,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters during a tour of Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon.

“We will continue to defend our vital security and other interests. And I would like to paraphrase the well-known saying: ‘This is not the time to bark, this is the time to bite.'”

Tehran’s involvement in Syria, including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has alarmed Israel. It has also has accused Iran of building precision-guided missile factories for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria and Hezbollah celebrated the F-16 shoot-down as a blow to Israeli military superiority. Israel’s Army Radio said on Tuesday that investigators believed pilot error – rather than Syrian capabilities – were mainly at fault for the F-16’s failure to evade what was probably an aged SA-5 missile.

Israeli military spokesman declined to comment on that report, saying the investigation was ongoing.

Saturday’s incident stirred up further questions in Israel about the effectiveness of a coordination mechanism set up with Russia, which has also been reinforcing and arming Assad’s army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the flare-up by urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid escalation in Syria. Moscow said on Monday it did not have information to support Israel’s allegation about an Iranian military presence in the site bombed for launching the drone.

Zeev Elkin, a Russian-speaking Israeli cabinet minister who serves as Netanyahu’s interpreter in the talks with Putin, defended the coordination mechanism on Tuesday as granting Israel “freedom of action in the skies above Lebanon and Syria”.

“I don’t think the Russians ever pledged that they would take military action against the Iranians and the Syrians for us,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

“We are going one-on-one against the Syrians. We don’t need assistance from the Russians. We know how to deal with Syrian anti-aircraft fire, as everyone ultimately saw.”

(Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)