An airstrike reportedly carried out by Israeli warplanes near the Lebanese-Syrian border overnight Tuesday targeted a shipment of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles bound for the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, regional security officials implied to AP on Wednesday.
A US official said the strike hit a convoy of trucks.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the strike.
While Lebanon initially denied that any incident had taken place, the Syrian state news agency on Wednesday night said an airstrike had targeted a military site near Damascus. The Israeli military and Prime Minister’s Office had no comment.
Israel had been making plans in the days leading up to the airstrike to hit a shipment of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, a strategic game-changer were Hezbollah to possess them, the officials said.
Sky News reported that the IAF had struck the convoy near the Lebanese border town of Nabi Chit Tuesday night, but did not indicate whether the strike took place on the Lebanese or the Syrian side of the border.
Lebanese officials said a dozen Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace on Tuesday and overnight into Wednesday, flying close to the ground in several sorties over southern Lebanon.
A Lebanese army statement said the last of the sorties was at 2 a.m. Wednesday. It said four warplanes, which flew in over the southernmost coastal town of Naqoura, flew for several hours over villages in south Lebanon before leaving Lebanese airspace.
The Lebanese army said similar flights by eight other warplanes were conducted Tuesday, but added that it had no knowledge of an airstrike.
Israeli security officials fear that if Hezbollah were to get its hands on Syrian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, it would change the balance of power in the region and greatly hinder Israel’s ability to conduct air sorties in Lebanon.
According to Israeli assessments, Damascus obtained a battery of SA-17s from Russia after an alleged IAF airstrike in 2007 that reportedly destroyed an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor.
Israel has also been deeply concerned that chemical weapons from Syria could make its way into the hands of the south-Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group due to the chaos of the Syrian civil war, and has said on several occasions that the transfer of chemical weapons to non-state actors, especially Hezbollah, would be a casus belli.
Israel Military Intelligence Chief Aviv Kochavi is in Washington for consultations at the Pentagon, including with Joint Chiefs of Staff head Martin Dempsey.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that such transfer of arms to Hezbollah “would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach.”
On Tuesday, Air Force chief Amir Eshel said Israel needed to be wary of both conventional and non conventional weapons finding their way out of Syria.
“There is in Syria an enormous arsenal of weapons, some state of the art and some nonconventional. All of it could find its way to our borders and not just to our backyards,” he said.
AP and Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.