Barak: We're following Syrian WMD issue closely

'Time' magazine says US gave Israel "green light" for more attacks; defense minister says there's a possibility of weapons transfer to Hezbollah following inevitable fall of Assad; refuses to address reported IAF strike.

Syrian site reportedly bombed by IAF 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Syrian site reportedly bombed by IAF 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
The Israel Air Force struck multiple Syrian targets in Wednesday’s reported aerial attacks, Time magazine said in a report on its website over the weekend.
One of the targets struck on the Lebanon-Syria border included a biological weapons research center, the report said, citing Western intelligence officials.
The report added that the center was demolished, due to fears that it could be taken over by radical Islamist forces among rebels fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
A second strike involved an arms convoy carrying advanced SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, while at least one to two “additional targets” were hit the same night, the report said without elaborating further.
Washington has given Jerusalem a “green light” to strike more targets in Syria if necessary, Time added.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is taking part in an international defense conference in Munich, told a local television station that Israel is closely following “the issue of chemical weapons” in Syria, though he refused to address Wednesday’s events.
“We are examining the possibility of advanced weapons transfers to Hezbollah when the collapse of Assad’s regime is complete,” he said, adding that the Syrian president “will not survive.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told AFP on Friday that Washington was growing increasingly concerned by the growing likelihood that weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah.
“The chaos in Syria has obviously created an environment where the possibility of these weapons, you know, going across the border and falling into the hands of Hezbollah has become a greater concern,” Panetta said.
The secretary of defense did not confirm the details of the alleged Israeli strikes in Syria, but stated that “the United States supports whatever steps are taken to make sure these weapons don’t fall into the hands of terrorists.”
“Without discussing the communications that we have on a regular basis with Israel or the specifics of that operation, because that’s something they know more about, we have expressed the concern that we have to do everything we can to make sure that sophisticated weapons like SA-17 [anti-aircraft] missiles or, for that matter chemical biological weapons, do not fall into the hands of terrorists,” he said.
Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center – better known by its French acronym, CERS – has long been on Israel’s radar as a state organization for developing biological and chemical weapons and missiles, and as a proliferation center for Hezbollah and Hamas.
In 2010, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel, the former director of the National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Bureau, warned that CERS would be demolished if it continued to arm terrorist organizations.
The Syrian SANA news agency released a statement by the General Command of the Armed Forces that sought to link the supposed strike to Israel’s support – and that of other countries – for the Syrian rebels.
“Warplanes violated Syrian airspace on Wednesday at dawn and bombarded a scientific research center responsible for raising our levels of resistance and selfdefense,” the statement said. “This attack came after Israel and other countries that oppose the Syrian people utilized their pawns in Syria to attack vital military locations.”
Syria’s military also said the attack “martyred” two workers and wounded five others. It went on to deny claims that the attack targeted a convoy headed for Lebanon.
Iraqi daily Azzaman quoted a Western diplomatic source as saying last week that the attack caused heavy casualties among special Iranian Guards stationed at the Syrian facility.
The source also said that the attack took place more than 48 hours before it was reported, eventually being leaked by Israel.
The source for the story, who was interviewed by the paper in London, said the report about a strike on a convoy to Lebanon was probably meant to divert attention away from the main objective of the operation, in which F-16 aircraft fired at least eight guided missiles at the facility.
The source also said that the base was heavily fortified and contained experts from Russia and at least 3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who have been guarding the site for years. Many of these Iranian Guards were injured.
Israel most likely got its intelligence from penetrating deep inside Iran and from other operations meant to penetrate Hezbollah, the source said.
Meanwhile, IAF planes carried out a number of “mock raids” over Lebanese airspace on Friday night, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported.
According to the report, beginning at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, the aircraft flew at low altitude over the towns of Nabatiya, Iklim al-Tuffah, Marjayoun and Bint Jbail.
Lebanon frequently complains that Israeli jets fly over its territory.
Last week, the Lebanese army said that four IAF planes entered Lebanese air space at 4:30 p.m on Tuesday. They were replaced four hours later by another group of planes which flew over southern Lebanon until 2 a.m. when a third mission took over, finally leaving at 7:55 on Wednesday morning.
The statement made no mention of planes entering Syrian airspace.
Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report. •