Photo: Wikimedia Commons
New information suggests that Israel’s airstrike in Syria last week was less about stopping a border shipment and more of a preemptive strike.Last week Western diplomats said the strike targeted a convoy carrying Russian SA-17 antiaircraft missiles that was on its way to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Syria said the target was a military research centre near Damascus.
Footage aired by Syrian state TV and comments from U.S. officials suggest that both sides were partially correct since Israel bombed a convoy at the key military facility. And the jets may have directly bombed the facility itself as well.
Syrian TV broadcasted what it said were images of the strike’s aftermath, which included vehicles that appeared to be directly hit by missiles as well as buildings that appeared to have been damaged by secondary blasts.
A senior U.S. military official told The New York Times that the damage to the buildings was likely “due to the bombs which targeted the vehicles” carrying sophisticated antiaircraft weapons in addition to “the secondary explosions from the missiles.” Two unnamed American officials told The Washington Post the same thing.
But the location of the strike—outside of the Jamraya facility and not in Lebanese territory or near the Lebanese border—and types of weapons alleged hit challenge claims that the sophisticated weapons systems were on their way to Hezbollah.
From The Times:
… there are reasons to doubt whether the antiaircraft equipment was truly heading to Hezbollah. Outside experts like Ruslan R. Aliyev, an analyst with the centre for the Analysis of Strategy and Technologies, a defence research group in Moscow, said the SA-17’s were too sophisticated for Hezbollah to use and would be easily detected. He also said such a transfer would alienate Russia and make it impossible for Moscow to sustain its support for Mr. Assad’s government.
Here’s some of the footage from Syria TV:
So the answer to where exactly the strike occurred raises questions about Israel’s justification for the attack, which was “fully backed” by the U.S. There are also questions about which targets were directly hit.
On Friday Time magazine cited a Western intelligence official who said that beyond the convoy, “at least one to two additional targets were hit the same night,” indicating that the damaged may be more extensive than either side willing to acknowledge.
Other officials told Time that Israel had a “green light” from Washington to launch more such strikes on targets it deems as threat for weapon proliferation.
Dany Shoham, a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat centre for Strategic Studies, noted to The Times that the Jamarya compound—which lies about eight miles from the Lebanese border—is a principal Syrian facility for “upgrading chemical and biological war agents” and “upgrading dispersal and delivery systems for those agents.”
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