The Syrian military claims that early Wednesday Israeli warplanes bombed a military research center northwest of Damascus — not a convoy of trucks headed to Lebanon as previously reported.
Earlier reports of the airstrike indicated that the jets targeted a convoy of trucks carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles near the Syria-Lebanon border.
Syrian state news agency SANA reports the strike destroyed a military research center “responsible for raising the levels of resistance and self-defense” in Damascus, killing two people and wounding five others.
Damascus is located about 10 miles from the Lebanese border.
“The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said … Israeli warplanes snuck from the north of Al-Sheikh Mountain, flying at a low altitude and below radars, heading to Jamraya in Damascus Countryside … and bombarded the location before sneaking away.”
Earlier reports indicated that the strike occurred in Lebanon but now the consensus is that the attack occurred “deep inside Syrian territory” — making it the first time since 2007 that the Israeli Air Force has attacked a target in Syria.
Now the big question is whether it was a convoy of trucks or a military research building that was bombed.
Either way, the strike is a significant escalation of the geopolitical conflict in the region as a top aide to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday that any “attack on Syria is considered (an) attack on Iran and Iran’s allies.”
The Times notes that Avi Dichter, the minister for the home front, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that options to prevent Syria from using or transferring chemical or conventional weapons included deterrence and “attempts to hit the stockpiles.”
On Tuesday Israel launched an airstrike against a convoy of trucks moving near the Lebanon-Syria border, a senior U.S. official and a Lebanese security official told The Wall Street Journal.The strike was originally reported by Reuters.
UPDATE [14:56 EST] Syria claims that Israel actually bombed a military research center near Damascus.
“The Israeli air force blew up a convoy which had just crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon,” an unnamed security source told Agence France-Press.
A “well-placed defense analyst” told John Ray of ITV News that the strike was in Hezbollah Lebanese territory and the missile struck a “truck of scud and antiaircraft missiles” headed to members of the Iran-backed militant group. WSJ reported that “it wasn’t immediately clear on which side of the border it occurred.”
Two officials told The Associated Press Israel had been planning to hit a shipment of weapons for the last few days because it contained Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be strategically “game-changing” in the hands of Hezbollah.
On Monday Israel Army Radio reported that security chief Yaakov Amidror was headed to Russia to discuss the Syrian crisis. On Tuesday Al-Monitor reported that IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was traveling to Washington for consultations with American officials.
On Tuesday Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief Major-General Amir Eshel told an international aerospace conference that the IAF was involved in “a campaign between wars,” working with Israeli intelligence agencies in often covert missions “to reduce the immediate threats [and] to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen.”
An Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, when asked on Israel Radio if there was unusual activity on the northern front, said: ”The entire world has said more than once that it takes developments in Syria very seriously, developments which can be in negative directions … Of course any development which is a development in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping and prevention.”
In October Sudan accused Israel of bombing a arms factory that was widely believed to be owned by Iran and used to supply weapons to Hamas in Gaza.
On Wednesday U.S. officials — who said they were given forewarning of the strike — told The Wall Street Journal and other outlets that the Israelis were targeting a convoy of trucks allegedly carrying Russian-made SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah.
Syria insisted that the reports about the convoy attack were “baseless,” and that the real target was a military research center in Jamraya, which lies about three miles from Damascus and eight miles from the Lebanese border.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Salo, a former head of the chemical weapons unit in the Syrian Army who defected and is now in Turkey, told The New York Times that the complex produces both conventional and chemical weapons.
The Azzaman source said that the complex is heavily fortified and houses experts from Russia and has been guarded for years by at least three thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guards, adding that the Guards suffered heavy casualties in the strike.
The Syrian rebel commander in the Damascus area told Reuters that rebels attacked the facility with “six 120 millimeter mortars” at about the same time that Israeli planes bombed the convoy.
But there has been no confirmation of the convoy attack besides unnamed diplomatic and rebel sources saying it occurred three miles south of where the main Damascus-Beirut highway crosses the border into Lebanon.
Transfer of the missiles “would be a game changer … by challenging the ability of Israel’s air force to carry out daily surveillance flights over southern Lebanon and eastern Lebanon along the border with Syria,” Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, told USA Today.
The attack comes at a time when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is too weak to risk opening a new front with Israel by retaliating.
“Syria is in such a bad state right now that an Israeli retaliation to a Syrian action would be harsh and could topple the regime,” Moshe Maoz, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University who specializes in Syria, told AP. “Therefore Syria is not responding.”
Meanwhile Iran is busy propping up Assad. On Thursday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there are signs that Iran is sending growing numbers of people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to Assad since he’s using up his weaponry.
And Israel appears to have the support of the West. On Thursday UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that rather than condemning the the attack, attention should be focused on addressing ”the root causes” of the Syrian crisis, and the White House warned Syria not to transfer weapons to Hezbollah.
Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi told the AP that Israel has no choice but to launch pinpoint strikes on suspected transfers.
[from BusinessInsider.com Jan. 30, 31, and Feb. 1]