Syrian officials on Saturday denied reports that Israel had been behind an attack on an arms depot in Latakia a week ago.
The denial followed the weekend confirmation by three unidentified US officials that Israeli warplanes had targeted advanced Russian-made anti-ship missiles in the coastal area on July 5. The comments to CNN seemingly confirmed similar reports in the Arab press.
Early Sunday, The New York Times also reported that Israeli planes had targeted the facility, citing unnamed American officials.
On Saturday, Iranian Arab-language news outlet Al-Alam reported that Damascus was denying Israeli involvement in the attack, citing Syrian officials.
Damascus had blamed a technical error for the blasts, which left several soldiers dead.
Britain’s Sunday Times, citing unnamed “Middle East intelligence sources” reported that the attack was carried out by an Israeli Dolphin-class submarine, with coordination from Washington.
Before and after satellite photos of the area published by the Israel Defense website over the weekend appear to show several arms sites damaged by airstrikes, with a warehouse also appearing to have taken a direct hit.
The Free Syrian Army’s spokesman Qassem Saadeddine told Reuters on Tuesday that the rebel army’s intelligence network had identified newly supplied, Russian Yakhont missiles being stored at the Syrian naval base at Safira, and that the strike, which was not carried out by his men, was of a military scale.
“It was not the FSA that targeted this,” Saadeddine said. The attack, he elaborated, was carried out “either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean.”
Israel has declined to comment on the strike. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon brushed aside a reporter’s question about the attack in the port city with this statement: “There is an attack here, an explosion there, various versions; in any event, in the Middle East it is usually we who are blamed.”
Israel’s stated policy is to not allow advanced weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah, and it has reportedly already carried out at least three airstrikes this year on convoys carrying sophisticated weapons from Syria to Lebanon, once in January and twice more in May.
In all cases Pentagon officials later said Israel was behind the attacks, although no Israeli officials had confirmed it.
A former Israeli defense official did, however, confirm to Reuters that Yakhont missiles, capable of paralyzing Israeli maritime traffic along the Lebanon coast and imperiling Israel’s natural gas platforms, were in fact kept at that base near Latakia.