Israel launches air strike on Syria
The Israeli Air Force has conducted an air strike on Syria targeting a container of weaponry bound for the Lebanese terrorist organisation Hizbollah, an Israeli official confirmed.
By Phoebe Greenwood, Tel Aviv
4:20PM BST 04 May 2013
The early morning strike on Friday targeted “game-changing” weapons believed to be long-range missiles, an Israeli official told the Associated Press.
This is the second Israeli strike on a Syrian arms target this year. After the bombing of weapons convoy carrying long-range missiles to the Lebanese border in January, Israel warned it would not hesitate to act again to prevent the transfer of chemical or any other advanced weaponry from Bashar al-Assad’s massive arsenal to terror groups in Lebanon.
The Israeli government has called on the United States to take steps to safe guard the Assad regime’s chemical weapons store, which is believed to be among the largest in the world.
Barack Obama, however, is in no hurry to embroil the United States in the two-year long Syrian civil war. Speaking at a press conference in Costa Rica on Friday, the US president expressed the need for caution. He remains unconvinced that evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used the chemical agent Sarin against civilians marks a crossing of a ‘red line’.
“We will stay on this,” the president said.
Friday’s strike was ordered personally by Benjamin Netanyahu in a closed meeting on Thursday night. The attack was launched from Lebanese airspace probably using the Israeli Air Force’s “stand off” bombs, which are able to cover significant distances and would Israel to strike a Syrian facility without entering Syrian territory.
Israeli F16 jets were seen in the skies above Lebanon for several hours on Friday. Michel Suleiman, the Lebanese President, has denounced the Israeli flights, which he claimed are a violation of international law.
Syrian officials have denied any knowledge of Friday’s bombing. Khalaf Muftah, Syria’s assistant information minister, said that reports of an Israeli strike “come in the framework psychological war in preparation of an aggression against Syria.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Israeli military official told The Telegraph that Israeli jets make routine flights over Lebanon and are monitoring the border with Syria closely.
“We are preparing for the next war. Hizbollah today has been building up to a very significant military capacity. It is a better prepared, heavier armed organisation than it was in 2006. We are bracing ourselves for other weapons systems that could leak in from Syria and are preparing for this. This is the job of the IDF to be prepared,” the source said, adding that missiles would form the bulk of any future Hezbollah assault on Israel.
“The threat of land invasion is less problematic now than rockets and missiles over our population. Countries have armies with missiles but they are in hands of governments. It is different when they are put in hands of non-state entities, which are less responsible and more dangerous.”
Hizbollah fought a 34-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006, during which hundreds of Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. The conflict is widely regarded as a failure in Israel, which not only failed to disarm Hezbollah but helped the radical group to strengthen its political power base in Lebanon. The Iranian-backed militant group is now estimated to possess tens of thousands of rockets with a range covering every corner of Israel.
While the vulnerability of the Assad regime’s chemical weaponry has dominated diplomatic discourse it is the transfer of more sophisticated long and medium range missiles to Hizbollah that is the most immediate threat to Israel.
The tight Shiite alliance of Hizbollah, Iran and Syria has been oiled with a steady flow of money and weaponry – a flow that has increased dramatically during the Syrian conflict.
Lebanese and Iranian fighters have been pumped in to bolster Syrian government forces, and in return Israeli intelligence sources report that Syria has significantly boosted its flow of missiles to Lebanon.
Israeli officials voiced concerns earlier this week that a small amount of chemical weaponry may have already been transferred to Hizbollah, possibly Sarin gas. Of greatest concern to Israel, however, are Syria’s SA17 model anti-aircraft missiles, believed to be the target of January’s strike. Assad’s arsenal also contains missiles that can be launched from towards naval vessel and long-range ballistic missiles.
Yet Shlomo Brom, formerly the IDF’s head of strategic planning, shares Washington’s lack of conviction that Assad has employed chemical weapons.
“The rebels now have support of majority of the population. The regime cannot operate everywhere; they have to focus on maintaining control of the main cities and the roads connecting them. If we add on top of that external support that both sides enjoy, there is a kind of draw. In such a situation, the regime has been trying to break this tie through use of stronger and stronger weapons categories but I am seriously doubtful of reports the regime has used chemical weapons. We are talking weapons of mass destruction and we are just not seeing that level of destruction,” Mr Brom said.
“There is no indication that they [the chemical weapons stores] are really threatened. Because of the nature of these weapons, they are usually kept in remote places, somewhere in the desert, that are relatively easy to protect,” he added.
As Syria becomes a playground for external players with an array of interests – including Iran, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda – the Syrian civil war look set to spill into a regional Sunni Shiite conflict and so Israel’s northern border will become increasingly vulnerable and volatile.
Hizbollah has denied it was responsible for the launch of a drone downed by the Israeli Air Force over the Mediterranean near Haifa last week, leading Israel to suspect Iranian involvement.
On Sunday evening, the Israeli army called 2,000 reservists to the Lebanese border for a three-day surprise drill, designed to test the army’s readiness for conflict.
“We are lucky to have allies, the US and others, but we built the IDF and our security forces in a way that enables us to defend ourselves by ourselves. We have done this now for 65 years,” a senior Israeli military source told The Telegraph.
“You have to be hands on, ready to operate if and when necessary. We have to take action we have to take action to prevent what we can.”