Military Leaders To Meet, Flesh Out Air-Ground Deconfliction

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TEL AVIV — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday praised bilateral efforts to prevent unintended clashes of their air forces operating in Syria and pledged to broaden so-called deconfliction measures to include forces operating from the ground as well.

Meeting in Paris less than a week after the Turkish Air Force downed a Russian fighter that had allegedly entered Turkish airspace for a brief period of time, Putin characterized measures first proposed by Netanyahu as efficient and said both leaders were “satisfied with the progress of bilateral” ties.

“The mechanism ... [that] presupposes contacts between the militaries to prevent incidents due to the dramatic developments in the region has been efficient,” Putin told Netanyahu.

Referencing Ankara’s downing of the Russian fighter, Netanyahu said to Putin: “The events of recent days prove the importance of our coordination, our deconfliction mechanisms, our attempts to cooperate with each other to prevent unnecessary accidents and tragedies, and I believe that we’ve been successful. It’s important.

“I hope that Israel and Russia can see eye to eye on all the strategic matter, but I want to assure you that we believe that it’s within our powers to have very good coordination on the ground and in the air so that we do not create the kind of problems that we’ve been experiencing,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said he was “very satisfied by the fact that our militaries have been very careful to coordinate with one another and will continue to do so.”

After his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu announced that senior military officers from both countries would meettomorrow to flesh out the nascent mechanisms endorsed by the two leaders Sept. 21 in Moscow.

In a Nov. 29 interview with Israel Radio, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon revealed that the Israeli Air Force used the coordination mechanism to warn away a Russian fighter aircraft that had briefly violated Israeli airspace during operations against Syrian rebels just north of the Israeli border.

Ya’alon did not specify when the breach occurred and described the incident as “a small infraction,” with the Russian fighter penetrating Israeli airspace for about one mile before correcting course.

He credited the direct Israeli-Russian channel of communications for preventing unintended clashes between the two countries, which are pursuing very different policies in Syria.

“Russian aircraft do not intend to attack us and therefore there’s no need to automatically down them. Until today, there’s been one small incident, and it was immediately corrected through our communications channel,” Ya’alon said.

The Israeli defense minister said Israel has not hesitated in the past to down Syrian aircraft — both UAVs and manned Russian-built fighters — that breach Israeli airspace.

But in the case of Russia, which for nearly three months has been operating in Syria on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Ya’alon said neither Israel nor Russia have an interest in interfering with one another’s activities in Syria.

“I want to remind you that about a year ago, we shot down a Syrian Su-24 that crossed our border into our territory as well as unmanned aerial vehicles," Ya’alon told veteran Israel Radio broadcaster Arieh Golan. "But when we understood that the Russians planned to operate in Syria, immediately the prime minister met with President Putin and also military officers [from Israel and Russia] met … and we created an open channel for coordination in order to prevent misunderstandings.”

Email: bopallrome@defensenews.com

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