Thursday, January 31, 2013

Israel Bombs Suspected Shipment of Anti-Aircraft Missiles Inside Syria

At the Wall Street Journal, "Israeli Jets Blast Arms Shipment Inside Syria":

Israel bombed a suspected shipment of antiaircraft missiles in Syria on Wednesday, according to regional and U.S. officials, in its most ambitious strike inside its neighbor's territory in nearly two chaotic years of civil war there.

The early-morning strike in a border area west of Damascus targeted a convoy of trucks carrying Russian-made SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah, the anti-Israel Shiite militant and political group in Lebanon, according to a Western official briefed on the raid.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the report, and to a Syrian allegation that Israel had bombed a Syrian military facility.

A strike draws Israel further into Syria's conflict—a civil war that has already deepened the region's divides as its powers have taken sides with arms and funding. It also marked a challenge to Iran, which has backed and financed Hezbollah.

"An attack of any kind is a major escalation," said Timor Goksel, an expert on Hezbollah and a professor at American University in Beirut. "Why would Israel do this out of the blue?"

The answer, according to several Western officials and security analysts, is that Israel took a calculated risk that Syria's government, strained by its own internal war, would choose not to retaliate. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Iran—both facing coming elections and financial challenges—would also be unlikely to strike back at Israel now.

In addition to taking out weapons that could be used by Hezbollah against Israeli warplanes in a future conflict, Israel sent what amounted to a message of warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran against attempting to transfer any chemical or biological weapons to Hezbollah, U.S. and Western officials said. The use of such weapons has been singled out by President Barack Obama as a "red line" that could trigger a U.S. intervention.

Syria maintained that the accounts of a strike on an arms convoy near the country's border with Lebanon were wrong. Instead, Syria's military said, Israeli jets had attacked a military facility near Damascus.

"Israeli warplanes violated our airspace at dawn today and directly struck one of the scientific research centers responsible for elevating resistance and self-defense capabilities in the area of Jamraya in the Damascus countryside," Syria's military said in a statement carried by the official Sana news agency. The attack killed two workers and injured five others, it said, and "caused significant material damage and the destruction of the complex" and an adjacent parking lot.
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