SYRIA declared it was ready to launch a 'surprise' retaliation attack against Israel yesterday as Bashar al-Assad's allies Russia and Iran condemned air strikes on a suspected weapons shipment near Damascus.
Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said Damascus "has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation" and that it was up to the relevant authorities to prepare the time and place for action.
The foreign ministry in Damascus lodged a complaint with the United Nations over the attack – part of a wave of incursions intended to destroy an alleged weapons shipment to Hezbollah.
The bombing campaign on military targets around Damascus and the Lebanese border came after weeks of growing concern in Israel that Syria's disintegration poses a direct threat to its security.
The Lebanese government reported a series of violations of its air space by Israeli jets on Tuesday and UN observers said the action continued into the early hours of Wednesday.
Initially, the raid was reported to have involved a convoy carrying air defence systems across the border, but Syrian state television said yesterday that two people were killed in a raid on the Jamraya scientific research centre near Damascus.
Israeli leaders have promised to prevent Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist organisation, gaining access to Syrian missiles and to ensure that stockpiles of chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.
Officials in Moscow, which has maintained an alliance with the Assad regime despite the descent into civil war and widespread international condemnation, expressed "deep concern" over the attacks.
Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iran's deputy foreign minister, gave warning that the "Zionist regime's attack on the outskirts of Damascus will have grave consequences".
The Arab League also spoke out against Israel's intervention. "This Israeli aggression is a clear violation of the territory of an Arab state," said secretary general of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi.
Former Israeli security officials said an apparent shipment to Hezbollah forced the country to take action. Experts believe it is likely that action was taken against military targets to send a message that Israel was ready to act when dangers emerged.
"Wednesday's strike indicates that Israel's concern has been vindicated. Russian systems have been transferred to Hezbollah," said brigadier general Sholo Brom, a former director general of strategy for the Israeli military. "I have just now seen information describing a combined strike. The target was an institution close to Damascus."
Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli MP allied to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, said air strikes were not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria.
Michael Ellemann, a director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies think tank, said the incident showed Damascus may be bartering sophisticated weapons technology for help from Hezbollah and Iran to fight the rebels. (© Daily Telegraph, London)