Three unidentified US officials told CNN that Israel carried out an attack on a Syrian weapons depot last week, seemingly confirming reports to that affect that were published in the Arab press.
The sources said late Friday that the series of explosions that took place at the Syrian port city of Latakia July 5 were the result of airstrikes by Israeli warplanes targeting advanced, Russian-made anti-ship missiles that were stored there. Several regime soldiers were reportedly killed in the attack.
The story was taken down from CNN’s website shortly after it was published.
Until now, the closest anybody has come to openly blaming Israel for the strike was the Free Syrian Army’s spokesman Qassem Saadeddine, who told Reuters on Tuesday that the rebel army’s intelligence network had identified newly supplied, Russian Yakhont missiles being stored at the Syrian naval base at Safira, and that the strike, which was not carried out by his men, was of a military scale.
“It was not the FSA that targeted this,” Saadeddine said. The attack, he elaborated, was carried out “either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean.”
Israel has declined to comment on the attack. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon brushed aside a reporter’s question about the attack in the port city with this statement: “There is an attack here, an explosion there, various versions; in any event, in the Middle East it is usually we who are blamed.”
It is, however, Israel’s stated policy that it will not allow advanced weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah and it has reportedly already carried out at least three airstrikes this year on convoys carrying sophisticated weapons from Syria to Lebanon, once in January and then twice more in May.
In all cases, Pentagon officials later said Israel was behind the attacks although no Israeli officials had confirmed it.
A former Israeli defense official did however confirm to Reuters that Yakhont missiles, capable of paralyzing Israeli maritime traffic along the Lebanon coast and imperiling Israel’s natural gas platforms, were in fact kept at that base near Latakia.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report