'IAF strike in Syria targeted arms from Iran'

Syrian rebels claim three targets hit in operation. US paper: Jets destroyed Iranian missiles.

By REUTERS
May 5, 2013 04:27
4 minute read.
Iranian Fateh-110 missile [file]

Iranian Fateh-110 missile 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Israel Air Force struck one or more targets in Syria early on Friday, according to several foreign media reports.

The New York Times said on Saturday that Iranian surface-to-surface Fateh-10 missiles were struck at a Damascus airport warehouse that was under the guard of the Iranian Quds Force and Hezbollah. The projectiles have a range of 300 kilometers.

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“There was an air strike. The target was not a chemical weapons facility. It was missiles intended for Hezbollah,” an Israeli official told Reuters.

A US official told Reuters the target was apparently a building.

Syrian state television had reported over the weekend that the blasts at Damascus airport were the result of a rebel rocket attack.

The Jerusalem Post could not obtain confirmation or denial of the reports by Israeli officials.

An IDF spokeswoman said the military does not respond to “reports of this kind.”

US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah Obama, in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo as part of a three-day Latin America tour that ended in Costa Rica, would not comment on whether the air strikes had in fact taken place.

“I’ll let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they’ve taken,” he said.

But Obama, who visited Israel in March, made clear such strikes would be justified.

“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon,” he said.

Friday’s attack was the second reported Israeli air strike on a target in Syria in four months.

Syrian government sources denied having information of a strike. Bashar Ja’afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, said, “I'm not aware of any attack right now.”

Hezbollah has remained silent over the issue.

There were conflicting claims about what was hit in the reported strike. Some sources suggested the target was an arms shipment carrying surface to surface missiles, such as Scud D missiles, destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syrian rebels agreed that weapons were struck, but offered varying claims about what kind.

A rebel from an information-gathering unit in Damascus that calls itself “The Syrian Islamic Masts Intelligence” said the convoy carried antiaircraft missiles.

The rebel, who asked not to be named, said: “There were three strikes by Israeli F-16 jets that damaged a convoy carrying anti-aircraft missiles heading to the Shi’ite Lebanese party [Hezbollah] along the Damascus-Beirut military road.

“One strike hit a site near the [Syrian} Fourth Armored Division in al-Saboura, but we have been unable to determine what is in that location.”

Qassim Saadedine, a commander and spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, said: “Our information indicates there was an Israeli strike on a convoy that was transferring missiles to Hezbollah. We have still not confirmed the location.”

He added, “We have nothing confirmed yet but we are assuming that it is some type of long-range missile that would be capable of carrying chemical materials.”

There were also unconfirmed claims that Israeli fighter jets fired missiles from Lebanese air space, without crossing the border into Syria. CNN said Lebanon recorded 16 IAF aircraft in its skies around the estimated time of the attack.

Unusually intensive IAF activities were reported by both Israeli citizens and Lebanese sources in recent days.

CNN also quoted unnamed US officials as saying Israel most likely conducted the strike “in the Thursday-Friday time frame” and its jets did not enter Syrian air space.

The IAF possesses so-called “standoff” bombs that coast dozens of kilometers to their targets once fired. That could, in theory, allow Israel to attack Syria from its own airspace or from adjacent Lebanon.

Speaking in Beersheba on Saturday, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomaticsecurity bureau, said, “Hezbollah does not possess chemical weapons.”

He added that the organization was not seeking such arms. “Hezbollah is enthused by obtaining other systems, but chemical weapons will be a burden for the organization and it therefore isn’t trying to get them,” he said.

While refusing to address the reports of a Syria strike, Gilad urged his listeners “to look at the wider picture” rather than focusing on “certain reports and not others.: In recent weeks, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel would prevent the proliferation of Syrian weapons to Hezbollah or radical rebel elements.

Last month, he also warned, “Lebanese citizens and their leaders must understand that for every Hezbollah attack on us, the organization and Lebanon itself will be considered responsible and will pay the price.”

In January, IAF jets bombed a convoy in Syria carrying anti-aircraft defense missiles, according to foreign reports. Syria later acknowledged the attack, but did not threaten any response.

Iranian officials, in contrast, made bellicose threats to retaliate in the days following the incident.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman accused Israel of a “policy of intimidation” on Saturday following the reported air strike, and the heavy presence of Israeli jets over Lebanon.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report


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