Israeli warplanes bomb Syrian weapons convoy to Lebanon, say officials

Sources say attack targeted shipment of ground-to-ground missiles not chemical weapons facility as first reportedAn Israeli jet takes off
An Israeli jet takes off from an air force base outside Beersheva. Officials said warplanes bombed a convoy carrying missiles from Syria to Lebanon. Photograph: Oliver Weiken/EPA

Israeli warplanes have bombed a convoy carrying missiles from Syria to Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, Israeli officials said.

The air strike, which is understood to have been carried out from Lebanese airspace, took place on Friday after the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his security cabinet approved the attack in a secret meeting on Thursday night.

The target was a convoy carrying a shipment of advanced long-range ground-to-ground missiles to Hezbollah and not a Syrian chemical weapons facility, according to unnamed Israeli officials.

The attack was first reported in the US media on Friday, with US officials claiming the Israelis had hit a building.
The US president, Barack Obama, reiterated on Friday that he does not foresee deploying US forces on the ground in the Syrian civil war. But the New York Times reported that US officials were on Friday considering military options, including carrying out their own air strikes.

The details of the Israeli strike remain vague but Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other advanced arms were to reach Hezbollah from Syria.

Unnamed officials told CNN that the strike took place “in the Thursday-Friday time frame” and the Israeli jets did not enter Syrian airspace.

The Israeli air force is equipped with “standoff” bombs that coast dozens of kilometres to their targets, which could allow them to strike Syria from Israel or Lebanon, Reuters reported.

A Lebanese security source said he understood that Israeli aircraft were monitoring potential arms shipments between Syria and Lebanon, possibly to Hezbollah.

“We believe that it is linked to Israel’s concerns over the transfer of weapons, particularly chemical weapons, from Syria to its allies Lebanon,” the unnamed official told Reuters.

A Syrian rebel commander, Qassim Saadedine, a defected colonel, told Reuters: “Our information indicates there was an Israeli strike on a convoy that was transferring missiles to Hezbollah. We have still not confirmed the location.”

The Syrian government has yet to confirm the strike. Bashar Ja’afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters: “I’m not aware of any attack right now.”

But earlier this week Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, confirmed for the first time that members of the powerful Lebanese Shia organisation are helping the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, fight the uprising against his rule and will stand by him.

Hezbollah fighters have been seen in Syria helping the government from early on in the 25-month uprising but their presence, long formally denied, has become much both more open and large-scale in recent weeks, and funerals of fighters killed there are now a regular occurrence in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s arsenal, especially of long-range rockets, makes it the most powerful military force in Lebanon.

Assad has long had a close relationship with Hezbollah, and Syria has been a gateway for transferring Iranian arms to the Islamist militia.

Israel bombed a convoy in Syria in January, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, according to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources in the region.

Israel fought a 34-day war against Hezbollah and other Lebanese militias with Israel in 2006 in which hundreds of missiles were fired from Lebanon. Dozens of Israeli tanks and armoured cars were damaged and destroyed by anti-tank missiles when they invaded south Lebanon.

Since the end of the war, Israel has accused Hezbollah of stockpiling thousands of short and medium-range missiles which were supplied via Syria.

Israeli remains technically at war with Lebanon and Syria. It captured Syria’s Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war, built settlements and annexed the land. The border has remained peaceful until recently when Syrian government forces have withdrawn from border position and UN peacekeepers have reduced patrols, creating a vacuum which has been filled with Syrian rebel militias.

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