Hours after Israeli warplanes allegedly struck a chemical weapons facility in southern Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel would take whatever measures were needed to prevent Iran from establishing a Shiite-controlled land corridor stretching from Tehran to Damascus.
Israel isn’t looking to intervene in the Syrian conflict, the defense minister said, but indicated the Air Force would continue to hit Iran-backed Hezbollah military targets there as necessary.
“We are not looking for adventures, and we do not wish to be dragged into one conflict or another,” Liberman told the Radius 100FM radio station.
“We are ready and determined to defend ourselves and ensure the safety of Israeli citizens,” he added. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent a Shiite corridor from Iran to Damascus.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Syrian army confirmed that planes bombed a military site near Masyaf where the regime is said to have stockpiled chemical weapons and missiles. In a statement, the army said the airstrike was carried out by Israeli jets and killed two people.
The Syrian military said the attack was “a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale” of the Islamic State group “after the sweeping victories achieved by the Syrian Arab Army” and affirmed Israel’s “direct support” for IS and “other terrorist organizations.” It warned it could have “dangerous repercussions.”
Unconfirmed Lebanese reports said Israel also struck a convoy belonging to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon. Opposition sources quoted by Israel Radio said the airstrike in Syria destroyed weapons stores including chemical-tipped missiles that were to be delivered to Hezbollah.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on any of the reports.
The target in Syria was apparently a Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) facility near Masyaf, which is in the northern Hama region. CERS is a Syrian government agency that Western officials have long associated with the production of chemical weapons.
Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs — large containers of explosives that are pushed out of helicopters on alleged rebel targets. The bombs are often dropped on populated areas, causing mass casualties among the civilian population, various human rights organizations say.
Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) September 7, 2017
In August a former commander of Israel’s air force said that it had carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Hezbollah over the past five years. The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed nor denied by the IAF.
The most famous Israeli strike in Syria took place almost exactly 10 years ago, on September 6, 2007, when IAF aircraft bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fray in neighboring Syria, but has repeatedly said it will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapons.
In May, Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.
Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during its latest war with Israel in 2006. Since Tuesday, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been staging a mock 10-day war against Hezbollah in northern Israel, marking the IDF’s largest exercise in nearly 20 years, the army announced Monday, amid tensions over growing Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report