Israeli sources confirm that the Air Force has conducted an airstrike on Syrian territory. Anonymous officials said the strikes targeted a shipment of advanced missiles.
The unnamed officials told AP and Reuters the target weapons were not chemical, but were bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and were sophisticated enough to prompt the Israeli strike on early Friday.
But Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, denied reports of the strike.
“I don’t know what or who confirmed, who are these sources? In my book only the IDF’s spokesperson unit is official,” he told Ynetnews.
In a similar airstrike in January, Israeli warplanes destroyed what was reported as a convoy of advanced air defense missiles that Syria wanted to hand over to Hezbollah. Damascus said the target was a military research facility and denied trying to transfer advanced weapons to its ally. The surface-to-air missiles would compromise Israel’s ability to enter Lebanon’s airspace unhindered.
On Friday media in Lebanon reported that Israeli jets conducted several sorties into Lebanese airspace, with some of them flying in circles over the capital, Beirut. Lebanon’s army website had listed an unusual 16 flights by Israeli warplanes penetrating Lebanese airspace from Thursday evening through Friday afternoon local time. Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman condemned the flyovers, branding them a “continuation of Israel’s policy of aggression” and called on the international community to put pressure on Tel Aviv to stop this practice.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui did not comment Friday night specifically on the report of an Israeli strike.
“What we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Sagui said via email to the AP.
Journalist and Middle East analyst Kris Janssen contends that the Israeli attack targeted Syria’s weapons transfer to Hezbollah because “from the tactical point of view it makes no sense.” He argues that instead the purpose of the attack was to slow down the Syrian national army in its operations against the armed groups on the border with Lebanon.
“During the last few weeks the Syrian national army was very successful against the armed groups on the Lebanese border,” Janssen told RT. “The army retained a lot of territory and destroyed command infrastructure of armed groups. This is not what Israel and its Western allies expected and the reason for this attack, if it indeed took place, was to slow down the Syrian army or even stop the Syrian army in its progress against the armed groups on the Lebanese border.”
The alleged overnight strike comes days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah voiced support of the Syrian government in a televised speech. The militant movement has significant political influence in neighboring Lebanon.
But the country itself has a significant Sunni population, and many of those people sympathize with the Syrian rebels. The argument over which side in the Syrian civil war Lebanon should support has sparked violent clashes in Lebanon on several occasions.
Israel has largely avoided interfering in the Syrian conflict, which has cost many thousands of lives. The government of Bashar Assad is technically at war with the Jewish state, inheriting the unresolved conflict from the 1967 War, in which Israel captured the Syrian Golan Heights. Syria has been allied with anti-Israel forces in the region for decades.