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DEBKAfile Special Report April 21, 2016, 11:35 AM (IDT)
Western and Middle Eastern military sources monitoring the war in Syria, and networks monitoring Russian air force flights in the country, reported Wednesday afternoon that there was almost a clash earlier in the day between four Israeli F-15 fighters and two Russian Su-30 jets.
The sources report that the Israeli warplanes, flying from the direction of the Mediterranean, approached Russia’s Hmeimim airbase near the Syrian city of Latakia. The Russian command, which apparently feared that the Israeli planes would fly over the base, scrambled two of their fighters that specialize in dogfights.
DEBKAfile’s military sources point out that Russia has deployed its advanced S-300 and S-400 antiaircraft missile batteries at the base.
The sources report that after a short time in which there was concern that a confrontation between the Russian and Israeli air forces was about to occur, both groups of jets turned back. The Su-30s returned to the base, and the F-15s continued their flight.
Operators of networks monitoring air traffic in Syrian airspace and in the eastern Mediterranean say that according to the messages sent out by both sides there was serious concern over an exchange of fire between the Russians and the Israelis.
DEBKAfile’s sources point out that the incident was apparently the reason that the commander of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, joined the delegation of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu make a one-day visit to Moscow on Thursday for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The sources add that according to the agreement between Russia and Israel on coordination of flights in Syrian airspace, planes from both sides can fly in an unimpeded manner as long as they do not interfere with the operations of those of the other side. Also, each side agreed to inform the other side of the location of its jets to prevent inadvertent clashes.
But recently, as the Russians have replaced a large part of their air power in Syria with advanced attack helicopters, it has become clear that the understandings between Jerusalem and Moscow are not in line with the new situation. The understandings are concerning flights by fighters, but the attack helicopters fly at different heights and speeds, and under completely different conditions.
On April 4th, the Russian military’s deputy chief of staff, Gen. Nikolai Bogdanovsky, met with his Israeli counterpart, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, in Tel Aviv to discuss the topic. The incident on Wednesday and Maj. Gen. Eshel’s trip to Moscow show that the air forces of the two sides have not resolved the problem, and that a new framework is needed to coordinate Russian and Israeli military flights in Syrian airspace.