Ex-IDF intel chief: Israel enforcing its ‘red lines’ with Syria strike

Amos Yadlin says reported attack on chemical weapons and missile facility sends important messages to ‘great powers’; warns of retaliation

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

A former head of Israeli military intelligence said Thursday that an overnight airstrike on a Syrian chemical weapons facility that was attributed to Israel sends a message to world powers that the country intends to enforce its red lines when it comes to protecting itself.

General (res) Amos Yadlin tweeted that the facility in Masyaf hit overnight had also produced barrel bombs that were dropped on Syrian civilians, adding a moral justification to the airstrike that wasn’t directly related to Israel’s own security interests.

The Syrian army confirmed in the morning that a military site near Masyaf was bombed, saying the attack was carried out by Israeli jets with missiles fired from Lebanon, and killed two people.

Opposition sources quoted by Israel Radio said the airstrike 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.

Yadlin, who heads Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, wrote in a series of tweets that the airstrike was “not routine.”

“It targeted a Syrian military-scientific center for the development and manufacture of, among other things, precision missiles which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict,” he said.

“The attack sent three important messages,” Yadlin continued. That “Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms,” that “Israel intends to enforce its red lines, despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them,” and that “the presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.”

Yadlin was apparently referring to the presence of Russian made-and-operated S-400 anti-aircraft missiles stationed at a Syrian airbase in Latakia among the military forces and hardware Moscow sent to help the Damascus regime beat back a six-year-long insurgency. Israeli officials have raised concerns that the system, considered one of the best in the world, could hamper air operations against Hezbollah targets. Israel reportedly has a line of communication with Russia to prevent the two countries’ forces from accidentally attacking each other. Still, according to Hebrew media reports, there have been at least two incidents in which Israel Air Force jets were fired on by Russian forces.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia,” Yadlin advised.

The Syrian army threatened Thursday that there would be “serious consequences” to the attack, which it claimed 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.”

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.

People inspect the rubble after a building collapsed following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed “barrel bombs” by Syrian government forces in the al-Mowasalat neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on April 27, 2014. (AFP Photo/Aleppo Media Centre/Zein al Rifai)

“The factory that was targeted in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians,” Yadlin wrote. “If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria.”

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, rights groups 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.

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, Defense Minister Avigdor 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.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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