Israel Bombs Syria Over Weapons Transfer
Yesterday we had yet another indication of just how easy it is for the civil war in Syria to turn into something far more dangerous:
WASHINGTON — Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.
American officials did not provide details on the target of the Israeli strike. But in late January, Israel carried out airstrikes against SA-17 antiaircraft weapons, which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.
Israel has been worried that chemical weapons and advanced arms might be transferred to Hezbollah from Syria, and the Israeli military has made clear that it is prepared to take action to stop such shipments.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has long had a close relationship with Hezbollah, and Syria has been a gateway for shipping Iranian weapons to the militia.
Hezbollah has sent trainers and advisers to Syria to help Mr. Assad with his war against the Syrian opposition, American officials say, and Syrian opposition officials report that Hezbollah fighters are also involved in the conflict.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined on Friday night to comment on the Israeli attack, which was first reported by CNN, saying only in a statement, “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
The Israeli attack came as the Obama administration — as part of its examination of possible responses to obtaining conclusive proof that Mr. Assad has used chemical weapons — is considering military options with allies. Those options include attacking Syria’s antiaircraft systems, military aircraft and some of its missile fleet, according to senior officials from several countries.
Those officials say that attacking the chemical stockpiles directly has been all but ruled out. “You could cause exactly the disaster you are trying to prevent,” a senior Israeli military official said in an interview last week in Tel Aviv.
But attacking Mr. Assad’s main delivery systems, the officials say, would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. “This wouldn’t stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah,” said one European official who has been involved in the conversations. “But it would limit the damage greatly.”
The topic was alluded to on Thursday, when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about “the need for new options” if Mr. Assad used his chemical arsenal, the officials said. But while the military has been developing and refining options for the White House for months, the discussion appears to have taken a new turn, officials say, in the struggle to determine whether the suspected use of sarin gas near Aleppo and Damascus last month was a prelude to greater use of such weapons.
“There are a lot of options on the table, and they’re generally carrying equal weight at the moment,” a senior administration official said Friday. He declined to discuss the others, though Mr. Hagel talked on Thursday about arming rebel groups
It’s worth noting that the Israelis have congruent but not identical interests to the United States and the rebels here. Their primary concerns are to prevent transfers of weapons, conventional or otherwise, to Hezbollah and other terrorists, and to ensure that the war does not undermine the government in Jordan. Getting Assad out of power is not necessarily a concern of theirs.