SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — President Barack Obama said he won’t comment on an Israeli airstrike against Syria that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles believed to be headed for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Unnamed Israeli officials on Saturday confirmed the Israeli Air Force strike, which took place early Friday.
Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo in an interview that he will defer to the Israeli government for comment. He also repeated his view that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to organizations like Hezbollah. The US considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Obama said it was up to Israel to confirm or deny any strikes, but that the US coordinates very closely with Israel.
“The Israelis, justifiably, have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” he said.
Obama conducted the interview Saturday, and a portion of the president’s answer to a question about the airstrike was broadcast on MSNBC.
Earlier Saturday, US officials told the New York Times that the Israeli airstrike hit a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles from Iran that Israel believed was intended for Hezbollah.
The missiles were in a warehouse at Damascus International Airport, the report said.
“Two prominent Israeli defense analysts said military officials had told them that the targeted shipment included Scud Ds, which Syrians have developed from Russian weapons and have a range up to 422 miles — long enough to reach Eilat, in southernmost Israel, from Lebanon. But an American official… said they were Fateh-110s,” the New York Times story said, which could reach much of Israel if fired from southern Lebanon.
An Israeli official, however, told the Associated Press the missiles were believed to be m600s, a Syrian version of Iran’s Fateh-110 missile, an extremely accurate guided missile capable of traveling roughly 300 kilometers (190 miles) with a half-ton warhead, an Israeli official said.
“In carrying out the raid, Israeli warplanes did not fly over the Damascus airport. Instead, they fired air-to-ground weapons, apparently using the airspace of neighboring Lebanon,” the New York Times report said.
Although Defense Ministry official Maj.-Gen. (Res) Amos Gilad denied reports that Israeli officials had confirmed Israel’s responsibility for the strike, both Reuters and the Associated Press quoted unnamed Israeli officials acknowledging the attack.