Israel was reportedly behind the massive airstrike near Damascus, Syria in the early hours of Sunday morning, targeting Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah. This is the second reported Israeli airstrike this week inside of Syria, and the third such strike this year.
Anonymous officials told the Associated Press and Reuters that Israel has carried out the recent strikes on Iranian shipments to the Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah of the highly advanced missiles known as Fateh-110s or “Conqueror” missiles.
“In last night’s attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah,” a Western intelligence official told Reuters on Sunday.
Israeli officials declined to confirm the Jewish state was behind the latest strike in Syria.
“We don’t respond to this kind of report,” an Israeli military spokeswoman said, according to Israel Hayom.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, however, hinted at Israeli involvement.
“The State of Israel is protecting its interests and will continue doing so. I am not confirming or denying the reports,” Danon told Army Radio.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in China on Sunday, made no reference to the strike in his weekly Sunday cabinet appearance.
The Israeli military, however, deployed two Iron Dome missile defense system batteries in northern Israel, and closed the region’s airspace on Sunday. The airspace was reopened on Monday. Additionally, flights on the Haifa-Eilat route of the Arkia and Israir airlines were canceled.
First put into service in by Iran in 2002, the Fateh-110s were upgraded last year with a range of 185 miles, and are accurate within 330 feet. Late last year, the Syrian government tested the new generation of Fateh-110s, prompting NATO to deploy Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, according to CNN.
Israel has expressed deep concern about the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which it has fought several wars with, gaining control of advanced weaponry.
“It is a game changer because [the Fateh-110s] are a threat to Israel's infrastructure and military installations,” Uzi Rubin, a missile expert and former Israeli defense official, told the Associated Press.
Several amateur videos posted on YouTube showed a several massive explosions near the Syrian capital. Residents near the Jamraya military base, located 10 miles from Damascus, told Reuters that “night turned into day.”
Meanwhile, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has not made any comments on the airstrikes. But Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad called the attack on the nation’s “research facility” a “declaration of war,” according to CNN.
Additionally, Syria’s government called the attacks a “flagrant violation of international law.”
Syria’s leadership has been placed in a difficult position by the latest airstrikes. On one hand, it does not want to look weak, especially to rebel leaders. But on the other hand, it risks escalating a conflict with its more powerful neighbor, Israel.
Iran’s leadership predictably condemned the strike. Iranian Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief-of-staff, said Iran “will not allow the enemy (Israel) to harm the security of the region” and that “the resistance will retaliate against the Israeli aggression against Syria,” the Associated Press reported.
It is unclear if Iran or its proxy, Hezbollah, would choose to respond to the Israeli airstrike. Iran, crippled by sanctions, is preoccupied with maintaining its lone regional ally in Syria. Hezbollah is facing growing domestic and international pressure, especially over its link to the terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria last summer. European Union lawmakers are reportedly close to adding Hezbollah to the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.
Nevertheless, Israeli embassies and major Jewish institutions around the world raised their levels of alert on Sunday over fears of retaliatory terror attacks by Iran and Hezbollah.
“Everywhere there is an Iranian embassy, there is usually one person, and probably more, directly involved in planning terrorist activity against Jewish and Israeli targets,” Brig. Gen. (Res.) Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the Israeli National Security Council’s counter-terrorism bureau, told Army Radio. “Sometimes it’s under the cover of a cultural attache or even just a normal staffer, but these people are tasked with perpetrating terror against Israel and Jews.”
Prominent international leaders were quick to defend Israel’s actions without directly implicating Israel’s involvement in the recent airstrikes.
In an interview with the Spanish language television station Telemundo on Saturday during a tour of Latin America, President Barack Obama said he supported Israel’s right to defend itself.
“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon,” Obama said.
Echoing Obama’s statement’s following Sunday’s airstrikes, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he understands Israel’s need to defend itself as well.
“Israel has made very clear that it will act if it believes that important weapons systems are being transferred to Hezbollah,” Hague told Sky News.
“Israel will act to protect its national security, we do have to respect that,” he added.