Saturday, May 04, 2013

Israel Reportedly Strikes Syria: A Chemical Weapons Facility or A Weapons Convoy

On Friday,, the blog of The Israel Project had a post that Israeli Air Strikes Reported As Both Rebels and Hezbollah Close In on Syria’s Chemical Weapons:
CNN reported tonight that Israel’s air force recently attacked a Syrian chemicals weapon cache, probably on Thursday or Friday and probably from within Lebanese airspace. The report cited Western intelligence sources, likely based on radar evidence. The CNN report comes days after Syrian opposition forces reported that IAF strikes had taken place on Syrian territory. The opposition reports also indicated that the Israeli attack targeted Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Israeli officials have been increasingly explicit in warning that Jerusalem would act to prevent the Syrian regime from crossing the double read line that Israeli officials had set at the onset of the Syrian conflict: no transfer of advanced Syrian weapons to terrorist allies of the embattled Bashar al-Assad and no seizure of those weapons by Al Qaeda-linked opponents fighting to overthrow the regime.

President Barack Obama has endorsed the Israeli position:
“That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria. It concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us,” Obama said, also acknowledging the possibility that militant groups might acquire some of those weapons. “We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.”

The president noted that he has not ordered any armed U.S. intervention yet, but said: “We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region, that that’s a red line for us, and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.”
J.E. Dyer, a retired Naval officer, writes in her blog, The Optimistic Conservative, the details known so far indicate Israel was targeting Syrian arm shipments to Hezbollah:
The overall description of the Israeli strike package – an aircraft group of limited size; no evidence of multiple, extended sorties; striking from a position over Lebanon – strengthens the case I laid out earlier this week that Israel is likely attacking arms shipments to Hezbollah rather than attacking installations in Syria.
At least for the time being.

Bombing in Syria
Bombing in Syria, from screenshot of YouTube video. Hat tip: The Long War  Journal

Similarly, David Barnett writes at The Long War Journal that as more information comes in, Israel was not targeting a Syrian chemical weapons facility:
Press reports had originally suggested that a "building" or "warehouse," and not a chemical weapons facility, was hit. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the US doesn't believe Israel would target one of the Syrian regime's many chemical weapons facilities" as "[t]here could be unintended consequences in hitting such a facility, including unleashing poisonous gas, or by allowing others to raid the damaged facility and steal the weapons."

An attack on delivery systems is not surprising, however. As former Mossad operations officer Michael Ross noted in February, "The chemical weapons issue is important," but "it is tangential to the overall issue of Israel's enemies possessing long range missile capability and other advanced technological weapons systems. Stemming the flow and technological upgrade of these rockets and missiles is a top priority for Israel's military and intelligence community."

While Israeli officials have not taken official responsibility for the alleged strike, prior to the news breaking late on Friday evening, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told CNN: "If the Syrian regime tries to transfer chemical weapons, or what we call game changing weaponry, to terrorist organizations, particularly to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel will not remain passive." In addition, anonymous Israeli officials on Saturday said a raid had targeted a shipment of advanced missiles, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.
In January, it was also reported originally that Israel had bombed the Syrian facility -- and only later did it become apparent that Israel had targeted a Syrian weapons convoy.

It remains to be seen what further details will reveal about the current operation.

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