Unnamed US officials leaked information Thursday on alleged Israeli air strikes in Syria, and told The New York Times they expect an additional attack by Israel in the near future.
The sources, described by the Times as “American intelligence analysts,” discussed what they said were classified assessments, according to which a July 5 IAF strike on a Syrian facility housing Russian surface-to-sea missiles in Latakia failed to destroy them all.
Additional air strikes would be required to complete the job, the sources said.
The reports follow previous leaks by US defense officials on alleged Israeli strikes.
The American leaks have raised concerns among some observers in Israel that Syrian President Bashar Assad would be unable to refrain from responding to the attacks due to the embarrassment he would incur.
“The mere fact that such leaks happen often indicates that the Pentagon leadership does not have Israel’s interests at heart,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post. “It is difficult to assess the motivation of such leaks.”
Inbar listed several possible motives, including the wish to prevent future Israeli action.
Other possibilities include an attempt by Pentagon sources to embarrass US President Barack Obama, by pointing out the “ease” with which Israel allegedly operates in Syria at a time that the White House says US intervention is too complex and risky.
Alternatively, the leaks might stem from an effort to deter Russia from transferring advanced weapons to Syria.
Other possible motives include sending a signal to Saudi Arabia and Turkey that a US ally is harming Assad, or maintaining a good relationship between the Pentagon sources and the media, Inbar stated.
“What is clear is that they do not come from elements friendly to Israel, because Israel’s preferred modus operandi is low profile. [This is] intended to allow Assad to refrain from reacting,” he added.
Dr. Dan Scheuftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said the identity of the sources was far from clear, but that he was sure it did not come from the Obama administration, which he said has a very good and cooperative relationship with Israel.
Scheuftan, a visiting professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, said he was not even sure the sources are really American as claimed, but that if they are, “it’s not the US government.”
“Coordination with the American government now is better than in the past,” Scheuftan said, adding that the US president would not have ordered the leak. He also doubted that it came from the Pentagon’s leadership.
The American intelligence community has a track record of attempting to influence political decisions, Scheuftan said, citing the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, which claimed that Iran had frozen its nuclear program, as an example of politicized intelligence maneuvers.
But Scheuftan said he doubted the leak was the result of any kind of official move by the intelligence community.
“It could be many elements. US intelligence has played very dangerous games in the political field. I can’t rule out someone in US intelligence as a possibility,” he said. “There could be elements within American intelligence that are interested in damaging Israel or promoting a certain policy.
Scheuftan agreed with Inbar that the leak could be trying to harm Israel’s interests.
“If the source is really from the US, it could be someone who has access to this information and wants to damage Israel.”
The Times report said that “Israel carried out an attack on July 5 near Latakia to destroy the missiles, which Russia had sold to Syria. While the warehouse was destroyed, American intelligence analysts have now concluded that at least some of the Yakhont missiles had been removed from their launchers and moved from the warehouse before the attack.”
The report noted that the officials were sharing “classified information,” adding that the Assad regime attempted to cover up the fact that some of the missiles survived the air strike by setting fire to missile launchers and vehicles at the targeted facility.
The officials went on to say that Israeli fighter jets flying over the eastern Mediterranean fired air-to-surface missiles in the July strike, without entering Syrian airspace.
“The route of the Israeli aircraft led to some erroneous reports that the attack had been carried out by an Israeli submarine,” the Times report said.
Foreign media reports have attributed four Israeli air strikes on targets in Syria in 2013, reportedly to prevent the transfer of strategic arms to Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to support Assad in the Syrian civil war.
These include an alleged strike on a convoy ferrying SA-17 air defense missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in January, and two strikes in May in the Damascus area, targeting storage facilities housing guided, medium-range, Iranian Fateh-110 missiles.
Following the reports of strikes in May, a Syrian army post near the Israeli border opened fire at IDF soldiers patrolling the frontier.
The IDF returned fire with a guided Tamuz surface-to-surface missile, destroying the post and hitting two Syrian soldiers.
There were no injuries on the Israeli side.
A few days earlier, two Syrian mortar shells slammed into Mount Hermon.
Speaking shortly after reports surfaced on the air strikes in May, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel is not “interfering in the Syrian civil war,” but warned that Israel’s red lines are clearly defined, “whether it’s transferring quality weapons to a terrorist organization or violating our sovereignty along the border.”
“We are continuing with the same policy we set,” he said.
“As soon as there is fire from Syrian territory that endangers us, or enters our territory and violates our sovereignty, we identify the source of fire and destroy it.”
On May 30, Assad told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station that Syria would immediately retaliate for any future Israeli strike.