Syria’s defense minister said Sunday his country had no need to respond militarily to last Wednesday’s reported Israeli airstrike on his country, since the Israeli attack was itself a retaliation. Israel, he claimed, was hitting back against the regime for its successes in the ongoing battle against what he said were Israel-backed Syrian rebels.
“It was the Israeli enemy that was retaliating” by carrying out the strike, said Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij in an interview on Syrian state TV. “It was retaliating for our military operations against the armed gangs.”
The rebels, fighting to oust Syria’s President Bashar Assad, were acting on Israel’s behalf, he said. Assad and his officials have frequently asserted that Israel and other foreign powers are to blame for the two-year-old civil war in Syria, in which some 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed, mostly by Assad regime forces.
Israel has been bracing for a possible Syrian response to the strike, but has not formally taken responsibility for it. On Sunday morning, Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel was involved, however, and Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, said at the weekend that Israel was responsible. In 2007, Israel reportedly blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor, but never acknowledged responsibility, and Syria did not respond.
The former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, for his part, said Monday that the apparent lack of a response so far from the Syrians and their proxy Hezbollah was no indication that there would be no retaliation in the future. Rather, they will choose to take action in a limited, symbolic way, he posited, “in nations across the sea, or by firing rockets with no one taking responsibility.”
Yadlin asserted that the United States supported Israel in the reported attack, and that even Russia understood the need for the mission.
Freij’s comments came a day after Assad, in a relatively mild response to the reported airstrike, said Syria’s military was capable of confronting any “aggression.” In the aftermath of the alleged attack, Syria said the target was a scientific research center, while US officials indicated that the strike had destroyed a convoy of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft weapons bound for the Lebanese Islamist militia Hezbollah.
Syrian state television said Assad spoke during a meeting with visiting top Iranian official Saeed Jalili. For his part, Jalili, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, offered “to assist you in any way you choose to respond to the Zionist aggression,” according to a report in the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials have repeatedly warned of the dangers of Syrian weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah and other hostile elements in the region.
Purported images of the targeted site, aired by Syrian state television on Saturday, showed destroyed cars, trucks and military vehicles. One building had broken widows and damaged interiors, but no major structural damage.