Israeli air force F-16s attacked targets inside Syria while flying over Lebanon. Claims that these targets were chemical weapons were denied by Israeli sources. More likely they were long-range missiles being transported from Syria to Lebanon. While able to carry chemical warheads, they could also have been used by Hizballah to target Israeli cities.
The weapons were being sent to Hizballah, the Lebanese terrorist group that is also a leading part of Lebanon’s government, for safe-keeping or possible use. In 2006, Israel successfully destroyed longer-range missiles that Hizballah was preparing to use against Israel. More recently, in January 2013, Israel attacked and destroyed facilities intended for the construction of nuclear weapons for Syria.
An Israeli official said that the weapons shipment could have potentially been “game-changing.”
Israeli sources also carefully stressed that the planes did not enter Syrian airspace. This statement was made to reduce the likelihood of Syrian government retaliation or claims that Israel had gone to war with Syria.
The fact is that Israeli policy remains neutral on the Syrian civil war and this approach is unlikely to change. While there have been debates within the Israeli government over whether a government or rebel victory or long-term deadlock would be preferable from the standpoint of Israeli interests, no conclusion has been reached on this matter.
And, of course, this debate has been academic, since Israel has no way to affect the outcome. From an Israeli government point of view, while the Assad regime has been unremittingly hostile and is allied with Iran, a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood with freedom of action for hardline Salafi groups including al-Qaeda is not clearly an improvement in the situation.
The rebels already control the Syrian side of the border with Israel, across from the Golan Heights. Their possession of advanced weapons—notably state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles—is worrisome. Israel also worries about Brotherhood-Salafist destabilization of Jordan, which is at peace with Israel.
Israel has also worried about the transfer of advanced weapons, especially chemical weapons, to Syria’s ally, Hizballah, for potential future use against Israel. As rebel forces have advanced closer to the places where these weapons are stored, the Syrian regime has been transferring some arms to Hizballah, reminiscent of the way that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein moved weapons to Syria when he was facing overthrow by a U.S.-led coalition in 2003. Of course, Israel equally worries about possible rebel—which means Brotherhood and Salafist—capture of these chemical weapons.
Here’s old Syrian television footage of firing the type of missiles involved.
ps: Note how everyone has forgotten the 2006 promise to Israel by the UN and United States to stop this kind of arms smuggling from Syria to Lebanon. None of the media coverage mentioned that Israel has to do something that the international community promised to do.
The next day there were large explosions near Damascus apparently caused by additional air strikes that set off the solid fuel in missiles or stored there.