Israeli warplanes in the early hours Thursday allegedly struck a facility in northwestern Syria where the regime is said to have stockpiled chemical weapons and missiles.
The Syrian army confirmed in the morning that a military site near Masyaf was bombed, saying the attack was carried out by Israeli jets and killed two people.
“Israeli warplanes fired several rockets from the Lebanese airspace at 02:42 a.m. on Thursday targeting one of the Syrian military posts near Massyaf, killing two army personnel and causing material damage to the site,” it said in a statement carried by the official Syrian Arab News Agency.
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 northwestern Hama region. CERS is a Syrian government agency that Western officials have long associated with the production of chemical weapons.
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A senior member of the Syrian opposition, citing security officials still working for the regime at the time, told The Times of Israel in 2014 that Assad’s forces were stockpiling chemical substances and missiles carrying chemical warheads at the site, which was not made available to international inspectors tasked with ensuring the destruction of the weapons.
Syrian opposition forces have in recent months claimed the Masyaf site, and other CERS facilities, have been working on a joint projects with Iranian specialists to develop chemical weapons capability for missiles.
In April the Trump administration placed sanctions on hundreds of CERS employees following a chemical attack on the Syrian rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians, including children. On Wednesday, a report by a UN war crimes commission said it had clear evidence that the Syrian regime was behind the attack and that it had used sarin nerve gas.
In 2005, then US president George W. Bush placed sanction on CERS, alleging it was producing weapons of mass destruction.
Five years later, in September 2010, the director of the Israeli National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau said that CERS facilities would be destroyed if the agency continued to provide weapons to terror groups.
Brig.-Gen. (res) Nitzan Nuriel, speaking at a summit at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said CERS was providing weapons to Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, and called on the international community to target it if it didn’t end its support for terrorism.
In February 2013, US intelligence officials told The New York Times that an alleged Israeli airstrike on a Lebanon-bound convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft weapons days earlier may have inadvertently hit the central CERS research center for developing chemical and biological weapons.
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.
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 during the six-year-long civil war 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.
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.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.