Senior Defense Ministry official Maj.-Gen. (Res) Amos Gilad denied reports Saturday in the Associated Press and Reuters that Israeli officials had confirmed striking a Hezbollah-bound weapons shipment in Syria overnight Thursday-Friday.
“What do you mean ‘confirm’? Who are these officials? For me, [a confirmation by] the IDF spokesperson’s office is official,” said Gilad at a gathering in Beersheba Saturday, noting that there had been no such official IDF spokesperson’s statement.
Gilad assessed the current situation in Syria, warning that President Bashar Assad had no intention of giving up power and that attacks on Israel were not part of his plans.
“He’s not provoking Israel and the incidents along the [Golan] border are coincidental,” said Gilad.
He addressed Israeli concerns over chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups, clarifying that Hezbollah was not interested in acquiring the Syrian chemical weapons, preferring systems that can threaten all of Israel.
“Syria has a large arsenal of chemical weapons and missiles,” acknowledged Gilad, but he noted that “Hezbollah does not have [these] chemical weapons.”
“We have ways of knowing that the Syrian weapons are secure. Chemical weapons kill those who use them,” warned Gilad.
Earlier Saturday, AP and Reuters quoted Israeli officials as confirming that the Israeli Air Force carried out a strike against Syria overnight Thursday-Friday. Israel targeted a shipment of advanced missiles, the reports said. According to Syrian rebels, the IAF struck targets at the Damascus international airport, which Channel 10 suggested might be Scud-D long-range missiles. The Lebanese National News Agency reported Israeli aircraft in the skies over southern Lebanon Saturday morning as well.
Officials reportedly told both news agencies said the shipment was not of chemical arms, but of unspecified “game changing” weapons bound for the terror group Hezbollah. One official said the target was a shipment of advanced, long-range ground-to-ground missiles.
The officials said the attack took place early Friday. It was not immediately clear where the airstrike took place, or whether the air force carried out the strike from Lebanese or Syrian airspace.
There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials, and no word of the airstrike on Syrian state media.
Hezbollah political council leader Ibrahim Amin Sayed said Saturday that the Lebanese Shiite militia was “prepared to prevent the downfall of Syria to the control of Tel Aviv and Washington.” He acknowledged that Hezbollah is operating in Syria in order to protect Lebanon from the “Israeli-American partnership.”
According to a source quoted by Reuters in a report Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet for secret talks on Thursday night, hours before the strike.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms that would upset the balance of power with Hezbollah were to reach the terror group.
AP contributed to this report.