'Israel may have struck the Syrian weapons facility before Hezbollah could take over'

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September 7, 2017 12:58

A top Israeli security expert says that there's a strong chance Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah was planning on taking over the chemical weapons facility Israel targeted.

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Hezbollah supporters take part in the ashura religious ceremony in Beirut.

Hezbollah supporters Beirut 370. (photo credit:Reuters)

The Syrian military research center allegedly struck by Israeli warplanes on Thursday morning could have been targeted because of fears Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah asked Damascus to hand over the facility to his Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group, a former national security adviser said on Thursday.

According to Maj.-Gen (res.) Yaakov Amidror, an analyst at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan, the strike on the Al-Tala’i Scientific Studies and Research Center may have been a consequence of Nasrallah’s visit to Damascus last week.

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Nasrallah boasted of his visit to the Syrian capital in a live speech, but according to Amidror – who was speaking on a conference call organized by the Israel Project – it may be more than a case of the facility producing weapon systems for Hezbollah; Nasrallah may have asked the Assad regime to give it to his group.

The facility has been known for many years as a center for research and development for weapons systems, including chemical weapons.

Noting that Thursday’s strike came almost 10 years to the day after the Israeli strike on the Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor, Amidror said that it should be clear to Damascus that Israel will not allow Iran or Hezbollah to build up their capabilities because of the “chaotic mess in Syria.”

While the IDF did not comment on the strike, as it does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria.

Jerusalem has repeatedly said while it has no interest in getting involved in Syria’s sevenyear- old civil war, it has redlines, including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

In a recent interview with Haaretz, former Israel Air Force head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel said that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes over the past five years against the transfer of advanced arms, including chemical weapons, from the Assad regime to Hezbollah.

According to Amidror, while the latest strike would fit that policy, destroying advanced weapon systems destined for Hezbollah, Israel actually prevented them from being produced in the first place.
Hezbollah official says Israel is closer than ever to its demise (credit: MEMRI)

“It’s another level of intervening,” Amidror said, adding that it was the first time that the Syrian target which was attacked is a full-fledged facility, not just a warehouse but one responsible for producing chemical weapons and rockets and missiles.

Michael Horowitz, director of intelligence at Prime Source, a Middle East-based geopolitical consultancy firm, told The Jerusalem Post that this Israeli strike is significant due to its location, which is close to both a Russian air defense base as well a suspected Iranian missile production facility.

While Israel has a “de-conflict” mechanism with Moscow and has implemented a system in order to avoid accidental clashes over Syria, according to Horowitz, the reports that Israel carried out the strike from Lebanese airspace “was likely meant to decrease the risk of a Russian response – whether or not Moscow would indeed approve of such a response.”

In March, the IAF struck several targets in Syria, one of which nearly hit Russian troops in the area, and led to Moscow summoning the Israeli ambassador in protest. Thursday’s strike came shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, where he reiterated Israel’s redlines.

According to Horowitz, “One of the goals of the strike was to push Russia to take into consideration Israeli concerns and show that otherwise Israel would act unilaterally, without Putin’s approval.”

Amos Yadlin, a former head of IDF Military Intelligence and executive director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, took to Twitter, saying that the strike sent an important message, namely that Israel intends to enforce its redlines, “despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them.”

Yadlin said that it was now important to prevent things from escalating and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response.

Following the strike, the Syrian Army warned against the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action for the security and stability of the region.”

But according to Horowitz, it is likely that any response by the Assad regime or Hezbollah will be limited. “Thus far, both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah have failed to respond to the Israeli effort to stop the smuggling of weapons from Syria and the building of new missile production facilities in the country,” he told the Post.

“Beyond symbolic attacks coming from Syria, which remain quite risky in the current context with both [President Bashar] Assad and Nasrallah busy in eastern Syria, I think the main response will be an acceleration of Iranian efforts to entrench themselves in Syria.

As long as none of the ‘great powers’ commits to countering Iranian influence in the country, Israeli can only delay what seems inevitable – namely an Iranian militarization of Syria,” Horowitz said.

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