Israel has carried out a second air strike on Syria, hitting targets in and close to Damascus in what briefings by unnamed western intelligence sources reportedly claimed was an attempt to stop a shipment of advanced, Iranian-made missiles heading to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Syria’s state news agency, Sana, reported explosions at the Jamraya military and scientific research centre near Damascus, saying: “Initial reports point to these explosions being a result of Israeli missiles.” The agency spoke of an unspecified number of casualties.
While Israel made no comment, Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV reported several apparent strikes, including one on a military position in a village west of Damascus, about six miles from the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said the Jamraya facility was not hit and that it was an army supply centre which had been targeted. The station quoted Syrian security officials as saying three sites, including military barracks, arms depots and air defence infrastructure, were targeted. Amateur video footage said to have been shot early on Sunday in the Damascus area showed fire lighting up the night sky.
It is the second Israeli air strike on Syria in three days, both reportedly targeting what Israel believes are shipments of advanced weapons, including Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles.
“In last night’s attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah,” Reuters quoted a “western intelligence source” as saying. There was no way to verify the claim.
Israel has previously stated it will not allow the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to assist the movement of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, to which it is closely allied. A similar air strike by Israel in January also targeted the Jamraya facility.
The Fateh-110 missiles are believed to be significantly more sophisticated than any armaments currently possessed by Hezbollah, with accurate guidance systems and sufficient range to strike Tel Aviv from southern Lebanon.
The earlier air strike was confirmed by sources in Israel, who said it was approved at a security cabinet meeting on Thursday night chaired by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Borrowing the phrase used by Barack Obama to describe any confirmed use of chemical weapons, Israeli officials said they had hit “game-changing” weapons.
Contradictory details emerged about the attack, with some sources saying a convoy had been struck and others a warehouse. It appears that the target was either anti-aircraft weapons or long-range ground-to-ground missiles.
While Israel has stoked fears in recent weeks that the conflict in Syria could lead to the proliferation of chemical weapons, a senior Israeli defence ministry analyst said after the air strike that Syrian chemical weapons stocks remained controlled by the regime.
“Syria has large amounts of chemical weaponry and missiles. Everything there is under [Assad government] control,” a defence ministry strategist, Amos Gilad, said in a speech.
Israel has become increasing active in the debate over intervention. It was an Israeli military official who first claimed publicly that western intelligence agencies had evidence of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms were to reach Hezbollah. The Lebanese group, which is allied with Iran, fought an inconclusive war with Israel in 2006 and has been accused of rearming with missiles. (The Guardian)