Israeli officials acknowledged Friday evening that they had launched airstrikes that hit inside Syria, say U.S. officials. It is not clear whether any Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace in carrying out the strike.
“We can not comment on these reports, but what we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specifically to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” an Israeli spokesman in Washington said, according to Andrea Mitchell.
The Israeli government has been clear that for them, the “red line” would be the transfer of weapons to Lebanon. SCUD missiles in Lebanon could reach not just Israel but also NATO forces in the region.
An Israeli strike on Syria would probably not target chemical weapons depots: that could cause deadly contamination. The more likely target would be weapon delivery systems or launch systems.
The Israelis had conducted a similar strike in January, when Israelis struck a weapons shipment of some kind that Israelis believed was headed for Hezbollah. In that instance, Israeli fighter jets attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles believed on their way to Hezbollah.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon publicly acknowledged the January airstrike inside Syria in a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Tel Aviv on April 22. Ya’alon said any Syrian delivery of sophisticated weapons to rogue elements like Hezbollah would be a “red line” for Israel and “when they crossed this red line, we operated. We acted.”
After the January strike, there was no regional expansion of the Syrian conflict. Andrea Mitchell said Friday that that was likely to be the case again, and that Friday’s strike was unlikely to unleash a wider conflict.
The Obama administration has moved very cautiously on Syria, waiting to verify the origins of a possible use of chemical weapons. Obama officials are conscious of mistakes the George W. Bush regime made in acting on unverified intelligence.
Earlier today, before the Israeli strike became public, President Obama said he did “not foresee a situation” which would put American boots on the ground in Syria.
It was not clear whether the Israelis had asked for or received tacit approval from the U.S. before launching the Friday strike.
White House officials referred all questions to Israel, who reiterated that they will take action to prevent weapons going to Hezbollah.