Russia may have helped shoot down the Turkish aircraft near Syria last week, the British newspaper The Sunday Times reported.
The Israeli website Israel Defense quoted a report in the British newspaper, according to which sources in the Middle East, including some in the Israeli Air Force, believe that the downing of the Turkish aircraft was a Russian message to NATO to refrain from intervening in the Syrian civil war.
The Sunday Times reported that Russian experts, who trained Syrians on how to use the air-defense systems Russia provided to Syria in the past few years, are still stationed at the various bases. The Russian experts are also stationed at the centers controlling the missile batteries, and took part in intercepting and shooting down the Turkish aircraft through the use of Syrian antiaircraft missiles.
A senior source in the IAF told the newspaper, “We shouldn’t be surprised by these Russian experts – who, even if they were not the ones to press the button, were at the very least by the side of the Syrian officers who did.”
Turkey said last week its jet was shot down without warning and without provocation. NATO firmly backed Turkey on the incident, saying Syria’s shooting down of the Turkish jet was “unacceptable.”
NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the incident, saying, "We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms…It is another example of the Syrian authorities' disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life."
Turkey has also filed a complaint with the UN against Syria over the downing of the jet.
A Syrian minister later said his country's forces may have mistaken the Turkish plane they shot down for an Israeli one.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told the Turkish news channel A Haber that Turkish and Israeli fighter jets were mostly U.S.-made, which may have led the Syrian forces to mistake it for an Israeli jet.
However, military observers note that Israel retired its last F-4 Phantom jet – the type of jet shot down by Syria –- in 2004.
Tension between Turkey and Syria continued Saturday, with Turkey announcing that it scrambled six F-16 fighter jets to the skies on the border with Syria.
The Turkish military spokesman said that the jets were scrambled after Syrian helicopters flew close to the border on three occasions.
On Friday, Turkey began deploying surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles along the border with Syria. It has also deployed jets and troops near the border following the downing of the F-4.