What we know about the Israeli air strike in Syria
Posted by Olga Khazan on January 30, 2013 at 1:12 pm
After several Israeli warplanes entered Lebanese airspace on Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. and regional sources said Wednesday that the aircraft struck a truck convoy carrying weapons on the Syrian side of the Lebanese-Syrian border, The Washington Post’s Joel Greenberg reports.
Here’s what Middle East watchers are saying about the attack so far:
It’s probably a move to keep missiles out of the hands of Hezbollah
The Associated Press reported that the target was a truck convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and cited regional officials as saying that Israel had been planning for days “to hit a shipment of weapons bound for the Islamist militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.” A source in the region also told Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen that the target was anti-aircraft missiles.
If the reports turn out to be true, Israel might have been motivated by a desire to keep the missiles away from Hezbollah, as Rozen explains:
Syria possesses sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, including the Russian-made SA-17. Israel would consider it a “game changer” if Hezbollah acquired them, that would “change the balance of power” between Israel and Hezbollah, and interfere with Israel’s ability to overfly Lebanon and deter Hezbollah, an Israeli security expert told Al-Monitor.
“And as soon as [Hezbollah's] weapons reach Lebanon, they are swallowed up in secret underground stockpiles. Looking for them will be like searching for a needle in a haystack,” defense analyst Alex Fishman wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. ”If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon, Israel will probably not hesitate – and will attack.”
Israel is extremely worried about what’s going to happen in Syria next
Last week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying that any sign that President Bashar al-Assad is losing grip on Syria’s chemical weapons could prompt Israeli military strikes. Israeli military intelligence is said to be monitoring the area via satellite for possible convoys carrying weapons, the Guardian reported.
The Assad regime is struggling to keep its power in the face of revolt. If the government falls, Israeli officials fear, the country could be taken over by Islamist radicals, which could spark new hostilities between two countries that are technically at war but have been relatively peaceful for the past half-century.
Lebanon has denied that the strike hit its territory
“No Israeli strike or aggression occurred along the border stretching from Shabaa Farms to Jabal al-Sheikh and Hermel. No strike took place on Lebanese soil,” a high-ranking security source told the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper.
However, Lebanese army officials did say that four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace at 2 a.m. Wednesday for six hours.
This is the first time Israel has attacked Syria since 2007
Israel suspects that Syria obtained SA-17s from Russia after Operation Orchard, a 2007 Israeli airstrike on Syria that destroyed an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor, the AP reported.
In 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear Israel would not accept the transfer of advanced, “balance-disrupting” weapons systems to Hezbollah and would use force if necessary, Haaretz reported.
On several occasions the messages were even more explicit: no to shipments to Hezbollah of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, long-range surface-to-surface precision missiles or shore-to-sea missiles.
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