Damascus will have nothing to lose if it is attacked and will not hesitate to strike Israel, a source close to Syrian President Bashar Assad was quoted by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai as saying on Wednesday. According to the reports, Syria has its Scud, M-600 and Yakhont missiles trained on Israel, and the Syrian military has already been instructed to launch "an intensive response" to any U.S. strike.
"The Scud missiles used by Saddam Hussein crossed thousands of kilometers until they hit Israel. The Syrian missiles only have 50 kilometers to cross before hitting the most strategic facilities in Israel," the source said. According to the report, "The Damascus regime has nothing to lose and it will launch an intensive respond if it is attacked."
Hezbollah also threatened to strike Israel should Syria come under attack. Lebanese media quoted a senior, unnamed official in the Shiite terror group as saying that Hezbollah operatives had been placed on high alert and that the organization was gearing up for a possible armed conflict with Israel.
"Hezbollah will not be able to sit idly by and see how aggressive attempts are made to topple Syria's legitimate government," the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of the security cabinet on Wednesday, for the second time in three days, to brief ministers on the situation.
In a sign that Israel has heightened its level of alert, two additional Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries were deployed in the northern part of the country on Wednesday.
The threats were echoed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who warned Tuesday that his country would not hesitate to defend itself if the West struck it, saying that the Syrian response would have regional ramifications.
A senior Syrian defense official was quoted by the Iranian Fars news agency as saying, "If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too and a full-scale war against Syria will actually issue a license for attacking Israel. Rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria's neighbors."
The unnamed official further cautioned the U.S. that "weakening the central government in Damascus will actually start growing attacks on Israel and will create insecurity for that regime. … Thus, a U.S. attack on Syria will herald frequent strikes and attacks on Israel, not just by Damascus and its allies in retaliation, but by extremist groups who will find a ground for staging their aspirations."
Speaking at a press conference in Damascus, Muallem said, “We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves. Syria is not an easy case. We have defenses which will surprise others … We are sure that whoever is planning to attack us will reconsider and that there will be no attack." He did not comment on which measures Syria may use to that effect.
Muallem said that any military action against Syria would only serve the interests of Israel and al-Qaida-linked terror groups fighting Assad's regime: "The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and secondly al-Nusra Front. … Anyone who thinks that attacking Syria will level the playing field between the Syrian army at the terror militias calling themselves 'rebels' is wrong. Even if we are attacked we will continue to fight terrorists in Syria."
Much like Assad, Muallem also denied that the regime had used chemical weapons to attack rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus last week: "We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge [the U.S.] to show what proof they have."
The Syrian government issued an official statement on Tuesday saying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had "fabricated evidence ... to support the American lies that the Syrian regime was behind the [Aug. 21] attack."
Muallem also addressed the U.N. fact-finding mission currently on the ground in the area which was allegedly gassed with what is believed to be sarin, saying that the government "was not interfering with the inspectors' work ... part of Syria's national interests to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors."
Commenting on the reports that the inspectors came under fire on Monday, he said that the U.N.'s experts' mission was suspended for two days "over concern for their safety. ... As long as the opposition cannot promise to hold its fire while the inspectors are there, we cannot guarantee their safety," Muallem said.
Meanwhile, Iran denied reports on Wednesday that Assad had arrived in Tehran overnight. Iran's official news agency Press TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying the reports were "ridiculous."