The Addiyar Daily Newspaper published in Lebanon reports that the militaries of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have gone on heightened alert Thursday after a widely reported Israeli attack on a weapons convoy in Syria on Wednesday. According to Addiyar, which is considered to be a pro-Syrian daily newspaper, Syrian army units have deployed in guerrilla-size formations in the Golan Heights. According to the paper, the High Command of the Lebanese Armed Forces has ordered a "level 3" alert for all its forces.
According to foreign news outlets, Israel twice carried out airstrikes inside Syrian territory on Wednesday. The first airstrike allegedly destroyed a convoy of trucks carrying anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah. In a second attack, reported by the Syrian military itself, a "research institute" near Damascus was supposedly destroyed. No Israeli official would confirm or deny the allegations. White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters that "I don’t have any comment for you on those reports. I'd refer you to the Government of Israel for questions about deliberations or actions that they may or may not have taken."
However, U.S. officials, on condition of anonymity, told The New York Times and Wall Street Journal that the attacks had indeed taken place and that Israel had informed the U.S. about the attack before it took place. Head of the Intelligence Corps Major-General Aviv Kochavi reportedly met with U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and other officials in the Pentagon this week, according to the Al-Monitor news site.
According to the foreign reports, the attacks were made from the air, with a force of 12 fighter jets. The Lebanese army issued a statement saying that the first sortie, comprising four jets, took place Tuesday 4:30 p.m. local time. The jets entered Lebanese air space over the coastal towns of Tyre and Sidon. Later they turned toward the coastal town of Naqoura in southern Lebanon, just north of the Israeli kibbutz of Rosh Hanikra, and left Lebanese air space.
According to the Lebanese report, a few minutes after this formation left, another four planes entered the country, and flew in Lebanese airspace until 2 a.m. The third sortie entered the country at around 8 a.m. Wednesday and comprised another four planes.
According to accounts in the foreign press, the overnight sortie destroyed a convoy of trucks carrying anti-aircraft missiles from the Syrian town of Zabadani to the village of An Nabi Shit in Lebanon. The Associated Press described the arms as Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. These missiles are portable, easy to operate and capable of catching planes by surprise, including fighter jets and low-flying aircraft. They could significantly impair Israel's freedom of movement beyond the border.
A source among Syrian rebels told Reuters that an airstrike around dawn (04:30 GMT) blasted a convoy near the border. "It attacked trucks carrying sophisticated weapons from the regime to Hezbollah," the source said, adding that it took place inside Syrian territory.
For most of the day Wednesday, Syria ignored reports of the strike on the convoy, and a retired Syrian general said on Syrian television that "our radar did not detect any penetration of air space and from Syria's point of view there was no attack." Lebanon's government news agency also reported Wednesday that "there is no basis for reports of an attack on Lebanon or the Lebanon-Syria border."
But several hours later there was an apparent change of Syrian policy. Shortly after 9 p.m., Syria's official news agency, SANA, reported that "Israeli planes penetrated Syrian airspace at dawn and hit a scientific research institute near Jamraya northwest of Damascus." The Syrian army claims the research institute is "intended to raise Syria's level of self-defense." However, several diplomatic sources from three countries told Reuters that chemical weapons were believed to be stored at Jamraya, and that it was possible that the convoy was near the large site when it came under attack early on Wednesday.
Israeli officials have said they feared Assad may be losing his grip on some chemical weapons, including around Damascus, to rebel groups which are also potentially hostile to Israel. U.S. and European security sources told Reuters they were confident that chemical weapons were not in the convoy which was bombed.
U.S. government officials confirmed to both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal that the attack on the convoy had taken place. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said Israel had notified the United States about the attack. A U.S. official also told the Wall Street Journal later Wednesday that the accounts of two targets — a convoy of weapons, and a military site — "weren't mutually exclusive."
According to SANA, several planes penetrated Syrian air space north of Mt. Hermon, flying at low altitude. The research facility was completely destroyed, SANA reported. "It is clear that Israel is the instigator, beneficiary, and sometimes the executor of terror attacks on Syrian soil," a Syrian army officer told SANA. In the same report, SANA denied "the reports that appeared in some media outlets that an arms convoy was attacked on the Lebanese border."
It seems that Syria preferred to admit to an attack on a site near Damascus so as to distract attention from incriminating reports implicating Syria in the transfer of weapons to Lebanon. Close to midnight, Syrian rebels claimed that they had carried out the attack on the research institute.
Israel did not officially address the reported attacks. However, if Israel did destroy the weapons, it would be consistent with Israel's long-standing red lines stating that it would not allow "game-changing" weapons to pass into the hands of Hezbollah. Such game-changing weapons consist of unconventional weapons or conventional weapons that enable a significant step up in the capabilities of terror organizations. Experts believe that Israel is not interested in an escalation but is merely sending the message that it will not hesitate to attack in the future if any other "game-changing" weapons should be transferred to Hezbollah from Syria.
"If there indeed was an attack, then it would have been because red lines were crossed and you can't draw red lines unless you guard them," former Mossad head Danny Yatom told Army Radio on Wednesday.
Also speaking on Army Radio, Likud MK Tzahi Hanegbi, a former head of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that,
"Israel has always said that if sophisticated weapons coming from Iran, North Korea and Russia fell into the hands of Hezbollah, it would cross a red line."
Hanegbi hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future. He said pinpoint strikes are not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria.
"Israel's preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems," Hanegbi said. "But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to," he added. "Even if there are reports about pinpoint operations, these are not significant solutions to the threat itself because we are talking about very substantial capabilities that could reach Hezbollah," he added.
Experts believe that Hezbollah and Syria are most likely to exercise restraint. At the same time, readiness has been boosted on the northern border because it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Hezbollah will have a hard time not responding at all, due to the plethora of media reports. As a result, the possibility cannot be ruled out that there will be missiles fired at Israel's northern border in coming days.
The Israeli airstrike on Syria has "unmasked" the true origins of the bloody conflict in the country, its closest ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, said on Thursday.
“Hezbollah strongly condemns this new Zionist aggression on Syria,” the group said in a statement, hours after the Syrian army said Israeli jets had bombed a military research center in the area of Jamraya, northwest of Damascus, about 15 kilometers from the border with Lebanon.
Hezbollah called for widespread condemnation of what it described as “barbaric aggression” by the Jewish state.
“What happened in Syria ... requires a massive, widespread condemnation campaign by the international community and all Arab and Islamic countries,” the statement said.
The attack, Hezbollah went on to say, “openly reveals [Israel’s] motives toward [unrest] in Syria over the past two years and the criminal thinking aimed at destroying Syria and its army and eliminating its pivotal resistance and rejectionist role to pave the way for unfolding the chapters of a major conspiracy against [Syria] and against our Arab and Muslim peoples.”
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow has said Israeli airstrikes in Syria, if confirmed, would constitute "a grave violation of the U.N. charter."
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby also said that the reported Israeli airstrike on Syria was a "flagrant aggression and a glaring violation" of the country's sovereignty.
"Silence of the international community about Israel's bombing of Syrian sites in the past encouraged it to carry out the new aggression, taking advantage of political and security deterioration in Syria," Elaraby said in a statement.