Israel attacks convoy on Syrian border

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

Israeli aircraft attacked a convoy on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight Tuesday, following numerous warnings that Syrian chemical and advanced conventional weapons could fall into the hands of the Lebanese Shi’ite Hizbullah.

The attack reportedly occurred in the border area, close to the main smuggling route used by Hizbullah to transfer weapons from storage facilities in Syria to Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, a Hizbullah stronghold.

According to regional officials, the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which Israel considers would be strategically “game-changing” in the hands of Hizbullah.

Israeli officials had no comment.

The Lebanese army confirmed a heavy presence of Israeli jets over its territory on Tuesday night and early yesterday morning.

“There was definitely a hit in the border area,” one security source said. A western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said “something has happened”, without elaborating.

Israeli military sources have warned that Syria’s advanced conventional weapons would represent as much of a threat to Israel as its chemical or biological stockpiles should they fall into the hands of Islamic militants or Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon.

Triggers for intervention

On Sunday, Israeli vice premier Silvan Shalom said any sign Syria’s grip on its chemical weapons was slipping, as a result of advances by rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, could trigger Israeli intervention.

“The entire world has said more than once that it takes developments in Syria very seriously, developments which can be in negative directions,” he told Israel radio, “and of course any development which is a development in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping.”

Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, warned on Saturday that it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on its own territory.

Discreet attacks

Israeli jets regularly enter Lebanese airspace, but its forces have been more discreet about Syrian incursions.

This is not the first time there have been unconfirmed reports of Israeli strikes on convoys just after they entered Lebanon from Syria. Israel is also believed responsible for an air raid that destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

Israel never confirms such attacks, partly to lessen the pressure on its Arab enemies to respond, but claims a right to carry out pre-emptive strikes.

Air force commander Maj-Gen Amir Eshel said his corps was involved in a covert and far-flung campaign around the clock.

“We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win wars when they happen,” he said. “There is in Syria an enormous arsenal of weapons, some state of the art and some nonconventional. All of it could find its way to our borders and not just to our backyards.”

Earlier this week Israel deployed two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in the north of the country.

As concern mounted over the threat of the Syrian arsenal falling into the wrong hands, so did the demand for government-issued gas masks, with demand for the devices reported to have trebled this week.