Reports: IAF targets Hezbollah assets in Syria

Israel declines to comment on claims; strikes would be first since Russia boosted its involvement in Syrian civil war

An Israeli fighter jet takes off during a training sortie in February 2010. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An Israeli fighter jet takes off during a training sortie in February 2010. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

The Lebanese and Syrian media said Saturday that Israel Air Force warplanes have attacked targets in Syria linked to the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah. Reports varied, however, on the exact targets and location of the strikes.

According to a report on the Lebanese Debate website, six IAF jets carried out the strike over the Qalamoun Mountains region of western Syria, and targeted weapons that were headed for Hezbollah, Channel 10 said.

Syrian opposition groups, for their part, claimed Israeli planes had attacked targets in the Damascus area, in two strikes in areas where Hezbollah and pro-Assad forces were centered.

Syrian media, however, said that Israeli warplanes hit several Hezbollah targets in southern Syria.

Israel’s defense establishment declined to comment on the reports of the strikes, which would be the first since Russia boosted its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Syrian and Iranian media reported Friday that Russia was carrying out air strikes against anti-Assad rebel forces on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights border with Israel.

The Jewish state has reportedly carried out several strikes on Syrian arms convoys destined for Hezbollah, although it routinely refuses to confirm such operations. It has, however, warned that it will not permit the Lebanon-based group to obtain what it calls “game-changing” advanced weaponry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that Israel and Russia have agreed on a mechanism to avoid military confrontations between the two countries in Syria.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is in the midst of a military operation in the war-torn country, ostensibly to fight Islamic State militants who have seized huge swathes of territory. Critics however, claim that Russian airstrikes are targeting not only the fundamentalist group, but also Western-backed opposition groups who are seeking Assad’s ouster.

“My goal was to prevent misunderstandings between IDF forces and Russian forces. We have established a mechanism to prevent such misunderstandings. This is very important for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing from the Russian capital.

“Our conversation was dedicated to the complex security situation on the northern border,” the prime minister said. “I explained our policies in different ways to try to thwart the deadly weapons transfers from the Syrian army to Hezbollah — action actually undertaken under the supervision of Iran.”

Netanyahu said that he told Putin in “no uncertain terms” that Israel will not tolerate Tehran’s efforts to arm Israel’s enemies in the region, and that Jerusalem has taken and will continue to take action against any such attempts. “This is our right and also our duty. There were no objections to our rights and to what I said. On the contrary: there was readiness to make sure that whatever Russia’s intentions for Syria, Russia will not be a partner in extreme actions by Iran against us.”

Ahead of their meeting, as they made statements to the press, Netanyahu told Putin that Iran and Syria have been arming Hezbollah with advanced weapons, thousands of which are directed at Israeli cities. He also told his Russian host that Israel’s policy is to prevent these weapons transfers “and to prevent the creation of a terrorist front and attacks on us from the Golan Heights.”

In April, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also warned that Israel would not let Iran equip Hezbollah with advanced weapons — a day after an alleged Israeli airstrike hit weapons depots in Syria.

Although Ya’alon did not discuss the airstrike that reportedly hit surface-to-surface missile depots, he declared that Israel would not allow Iran to supply arms to the terror group, which has a strong military presence in Lebanon as well as in Syria, the two countries lying on Israel’s northern borders.

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