Syria: Airstrikes ‘open door to all possibilities’

Israel’s military has deployed a rocket defence system to the north of the country following reported Israeli airstrikes in neighbouring Syria targeting weapons believed to be destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.

The Syrian information minister said yesterday the strikes “open the door to all possibilities”.

The Israeli military said it moved two Iron Dome batteries yesterday as part of “ongoing situational assessments”.

The move came hours after Israel carried out what an intelligence official said was an airstrike in Damascus that attacked a shipment of Iranian-made missiles bound for Hezbollah.

It was the second Israeli strike in three days.

The heightened Israeli activity has raised tensions with Syria, Hezbollah, and the group’s Iranian backers.

Iron Dome protects against short-range rockets. Hezbollah has thousands of such projectiles.

Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles struck a military and scientific research centre near Damascus and caused casualties.

An intelligence official in the Middle East confirmed that Israel launched an airstrike in the Syrian capital early yesterday. The target was Fateh-110 missiles, which have precision guidance systems with better aim than anything Hezbollah is known to have in its arsenal, the official said.

The airstrikes come as Washington considers how to respond to indications that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons in its civil war. President Barack Obama has described the use of such weapons as a “red line”, and the administration is weighing its options — including possible military action.

Iran, a close ally of the Assad regime, condemned the airstrikes but gave no other hints of a possible stronger response from Tehran.

Israel has said it wants to stay out of the Syrian war, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated the Jewish state would be prepared to take military action to prevent sophisticated weapons flowing from Syria to Hezbollah or other extremist groups.

Syria’s state news agency Sana reported that explosions went off at the Jamraya military and scientific research centre near Damascus and said “initial reports point to these explosions being a result of Israeli missiles”. Sana said there were casualties but did not give a number.

Damascus-based activist Maath al-Shami said the strikes occurred around 3am. “Damascus shook. The explosion was very, very strong,” said al-Shami adding that one of the attacks occurred near the capital’s Qasioun mountain that overlooks Damascus.

He said the raid near Qasioun targeted a military position for the elite Republican Guards that is in charge of protecting Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad’s seat of power.

Omran Zoabi, Syria’s information minister, said yesterday that Israeli strikes against three targets on the outskirts of Damascus “open the door to all possibilities”.

His comments came after an emergency cabinet meeting. Although Zoabi did not hint at a concrete course of action, he said it was Damascus’s duty to protect the state from any “domestic or foreign attack through all available means”.

The strikes put the Assad regime in a tricky position. If it fails to respond, it looks weak and leaves itself open to such airstrikes becoming a common occurrence. But if it retaliates militarily against Israel, it risks dragging the Jewish state and its powerful military into a broader conflict.

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, said the strike is a signal to Syria’s ally, Tehran, that Israel is serious about the red lines it has set.

“Syria is a very important part in the front that Iran has built. Iran is testing Israel and the US determination in the facing of red lines and what it sees is in clarifies to it that at least some of the players, when they define red lines and they are crossed, take it seriously,” he told Army Radio.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned the Israeli airstrike and urged countries in the region to remain united against Israel.


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