AS Syria decried Israel’s weekend airstrikes against targets inside the country as a ‘declaration of war’, the Jewish state has sought to persuade the Syrian government that the attacks were not designed to weaken Bashar al-Assad’s position, it has emerged.
The claims – which follow two large attacks near Damascus, and a smaller strike in January – have not been confirmed by Israeli officials, but it is understood that a third country may have been involved in conveying the message to the Syrian administration.
The attacks, on Friday and Sunday, are thought to have targeted research facilities and weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The strike on Friday hit a batch of missiles near the Lebanese border, according to US officials. The Syrian foreign ministry says that a total of three sites were hit.
At least 42 soldiers were killed and around 100 more were unaccounted for after Sunday’s strike, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A Lebanese television channel reported that four people were killed during Friday’s strike with another 70 left injured.
The suggestion that Israel has sought to reassure the Syrian government through diplomatic channels follows several media interviews in which leading politicians have publicly attempted to do the same thing. Syrian claims of Israeli warmongering were denied by Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the Knesset and a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
“An increase in tension with Syria by making clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime,” he said.
While Israel and Syria have never formally declared peace having fought four wars between 1948 and 1982, Israel has lbenefitted by the Assad regime’s largely benign policies and has, until now, enjoyed a fairly quiet period at the mutual border. And Israel has long said that it is reluctant to involve itself in the bloody civil war across its northern border but has said that it will act to prevent sophisticated weapons and technology falling into the hands of Hezbollah, with which it fought a war in 2006.
While Syria and Iran threatened a response to the latest military intervention, some inside Israel questioned the wisdom of the strikes at the weekend. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, the political commentator, Yossi Yehoshua said: “It is permissible and correct to raise a question mark regarding the necessity for such a strike at this time. Employing force in what is already a volatile Middle East should only be done when there is no choice. Every container eventually overflows, and we could find ourselves with one strike too many.”
Israel has closed its northern airspace and has deployed its two batteries of its Iron Dome missile defence system to the north in anticipation of any retaliation, but analysts largely agreed that the attacks by the Israeli air force have probably concluded. Mr Netanyahu went to China on Sunday evening for a scheduled visit, in what was also interpreted as sign that the Israeli military action has been completed.
Alistair Dawber, Independent.co.uk