Israeli officials confirm that the Air Force has conducted an airstrike on Syrian territory, AP reports. They said they targeted a shipment of advanced missiles.
The unnamed officials said the target weapons were not chemical, but were bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and were sophisticated enough to prompt the Israeli strike on early Friday.
On Friday media in Lebanon reported that Israeli jets conducted several sorties into Lebanese airspace, with some of them flying in circles over the capital, Beirut. Lebanon’s army website had listed an unusual 16 flights by Israeli warplanes penetrating Lebanese airspace from Thursday evening through Friday afternoon local time. Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman condemned the flyovers, branding them a “continuation of Israel’s policy of aggression” and called on the international community to put pressure on Tel Aviv to stop this practice.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui did not comment Friday night specifically on the report of an Israeli strike.
“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, especially to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Sagui said via email to the AP.
The alleged overnight strike comes days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah voiced support of the Syrian government in a televised speech. The militant movement has significant political influence in neighboring Lebanon.
But the country itself has a significant Sunni population, and many of those people sympathize with the Syrian rebels. The argument over which side in the Syrian civil war Lebanon should support has sparked violent clashes in Lebanon on several occasions.
Israel was last rumored to have conducted an airstrike on Syria in January, when a convoy of anti-aircraft missiles thought to be bound for Hezbollah was intercepted. The strike was not publicly confirmed by Israel, with Israeli officials each time stopping short of direct acknowledgement.
In one of the most recent statements, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told journalists that delivery of Syrian weapons to Hezbollah was considered a “red line.” Ya’alon then said Israel would not permit “sophisticated weapons” to fall into the hands of “Hezbollah or other rogue elements.“
“When they crossed this red line, we acted,” Ya’alon said on April 22 in what was regarded as a reference to the alleged Israeli airstrike in January.