Sunday morning’s strike inside Syrian territory, which reportedly targeted advanced Iranian missiles headed for Hezbollah, was primarily a message for Iran, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said on Sunday.
“Iran is testing Israel’s and the US’s determination to uphold ‘red lines.’ And what it is seeing in Syria is that at least some of the actors take red lines seriously,” said Yadlin.
The comment was an oblique criticism of the United States administration: President Barack Obama said last August that any use by President Bashar Assad of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.” Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel targets in recent weeks.
Israel has in the past said that it would not allow Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite terrorist group, to acquire advanced weaponry or chemical weapons via Syria, and that it would take action to prevent this from happening.
In a brief comment apparently related to the airstrike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, “My father taught me that the greatest responsibility we bear is to ensure Israel’s security and to fortify its future.” The prime minister, speaking at a ceremony dedicating a Jerusalem road junction in memory of his father Benzion, did not elaborate.
The prime minister postponed his scheduled flight to China by two hours so he could attend a security cabinet meeting Sunday afternoon to discuss the escalating hostilities with Syria.
On Saturday, Ed Royce, a top US Congressman on a visit to Jerusalem, warned that if the US does not hold firm to the “red line” it set down against Syria using chemical weapons, it risks undermining the seriousness with which its positions are taken on thwarting Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon. Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told The Times of Israel that “Sending a conflicting message to the Syrian regime — which is a cat’s paw of Iran — could create a misunderstanding as to the steadfast nature of our intentions on Iran.”
Israel has a responsibility to see to it that Hezbollah does not grow stronger, MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said Sunday.
Hanegbi also said that Syria was unlikely to respond to an Israeli airstrike inside its territory. “A Syrian retaliation is always an option,” he conceded, “but apparently it was deemed to be a long shot.”
“We don’t want to see Hezbollah strengthened,” the veteran lawmaker said during an Army Radio interview. “The main thing we want is to make sure that with the chaos in Syria, Hezbollah won’t become more motivated to take action against us.”
“You can’t solve this problem entirely; the problem will be with us for many years,” he said of Hezbollah. “What Israel did in Syria, according to the foreign reports, was to act on its recent warnings.”
Both Yadlin and Hanegbi fell short of admitting Israel’s responsibility for the Sunday morning airstrike outside Damascus, which foreign media sources attributed to Israel and was said to target Iranian-made weapons headed for Hezbollah. It came at the heels of a similar strike inside Syria on Friday, also attributed to Israel.
Former defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer told Ynet News on Sunday that he didn’t know who was behind the attack, but Israel couldn’t risk passivity in the face of a threat to it populace.
“I see what kind of weapons we are talking about,” he said, “It definitely changes the balance of power. Israel can’t sit in silence.”
An unnamed Israeli official told AFP that the target of Sunday’s strike was a shipment of Iranian made Fateh-110 missiles, which are surface-to-surface missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles).
Syrian state-run news agency SANA said on Sunday that explosions went off at the Jamraya research center near Damascus, causing casualties and blackouts. “Initial reports point to these explosions being a result of Israeli missiles that targeted the research center in Jamraya,” SANA said.
On Saturday, unnamed Israeli officials confirmed Israel Air Force planes had carried out a strike against Syrian targets early Friday. The New York Times reported that advanced missiles from Iran en route to Shiite terror group Hezbollah were destroyed in that attack.
On Sunday, a former IDF chief of staff, Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, said he supported Israel’s policy of preventing weapons from reaching Hezbollah.
“One thing is clear, Syria is falling apart before our eyes. Iran and Hezbollah are deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, and the transfer of weapons may be the regime’s way of thanking Hezbollah for siding with it in its fight against rebel groups,” Mofaz told Israel Radio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.