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Israeli intelligence officer: target of the attack SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles being taken from Syria into Lebanon

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Another Israeli intelligence officer, based on the country’s northern
border, told McClatchy that the target of the attack had been Russian-made
SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons systems that were being taken
from Syria into Lebanon. He said that the weapons, which included advanced
electronic systems that could disable a variety of Israeli aircraft, would
have been a “game changer” had they fallen under Hezbollah’s control.

Israeli aircraft strike Syrian target near border with Lebanon
By Sheera Frenkel McClatchy Newspapers Posted on Wednesday, 01.30.13

JERUSALEM — Israel intervened militarily in Syria’s complex civil war early
Wednesday, launching an air assault that destroyed either a convoy of
anti-aircraft missiles that were bound for Lebanon or a scientific research
center near Damascus that previously had been the target of rebel groups.

Precise details of what took place were difficult to come by. The Israeli
government didn’t officially acknowledge the attack. Regional intelligence
officials familiar with the assault said the target had been an arms convoy
that was traveling toward Lebanon on the main highway linking Damascus with

The Syrian government added to the confusion late Wednesday by claiming that
Israeli warplanes had struck what it called a scientific research center in
Jamraya in the Damascus countryside and denying that any convoy had been

“The aggression resulted in considerable material damages and destruction to
the building, in addition to a vehicular development center and a garage,”
the official Syrian Arab News Agency said. Two workers were killed and five
wounded, according to SANA.

U.S. officials in Washington declined to comment.

As with much of what takes place in Syria, there were few sources of
independent information to help explain the events. Rami Abdurrahman, the
head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that
tracks violence in Syria, said he’d confirmed that an airstrike had taken
place in the Jamraya area, about 20 miles west of Damascus on the road to
Beirut, but that he hadn’t yet determined what the target had been.

What was certain, however, was that Israel, whose officials have expressed
concern for months that Syrian weapons would fall into the hands of either
Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group or al Qaida-linked Islamists among Syria’s
rebel groups, had felt compelled to act.

Indeed, Israel’s action was considered serious enough that the country’s
military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, traveled to Washington
earlier this week to discuss the move in advance, according to an Israeli
intelligence officer who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition that he
not be identified.

“Kochavi directly relayed our concerns to the Americans,” the officer said.

Another Israeli intelligence officer, based on the country’s northern
border, told McClatchy that the target of the attack had been Russian-made
SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons systems that were being taken
from Syria into Lebanon. He said that the weapons, which included advanced
electronic systems that could disable a variety of Israeli aircraft, would
have been a “game changer” had they fallen under Hezbollah’s control.

“Israel relies heavily on the strength of our air force, and its strategic
deterrence,” the officer said. “Weapons systems that make our air force
vulnerable will not be allowed to fall into the hands of terrorist groups.”

Hezbollah, which has said it’s committed to Israel’s destruction, has fought
several wars with Israel, most recently in 2006, when it fought Israeli
soldiers to a draw.

According to the version of events circulating in Israel, the air attack
occurred shortly before dawn Wednesday, but it wasn’t clear whether it had
taken place in Lebanon or Syria. The Reuters news agency quoted a rebel
fighter in Syria as saying that the airstrike happened three miles south of
where the Damascus-Beirut highway crosses the border, placing it in Syria.
But four Israeli intelligence officers gave McClatchy contradictory
statements on whether the attack happened on Syrian or Lebanese soil.

The Syrian government’s version of events clearly placed the attack in

In a statement carried by SANA, the country’s general command said Israeli
aircraft had escaped radar detection by flying low over the Golan Heights,
the high ground that Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

The SANA report suggested that the bombed research center had a military
purpose, saying it was “responsible for raising the levels of resistance and
self-defense” in the area.

The report also attempted to link the Israeli attack to the government’s
battle with rebel groups that are fighting to topple the government of
President Bashar Assad and said those groups were undermining Syria’s
“support for the resistance and just rights,” a reference to the long
conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The statement added that several “terrorist groups” had made failed attempts
to take control of the same site in recent months.

“The General Command said that it has become clear to everyone that Israel
is the motivator, beneficiary and sometimes executor of the terrorist acts
which target Syria and its resistant people,” SANA said.

The Syrian government has consistently blamed outside forces for the
22-month uprising, which has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives, and it wasn’t
surprising that the Assad regime would try to link the rebel groups it’s
facing to the long-hated Israeli enemy.

“This blatant aggression adds up to Israel’s long history of aggression and
crime against Arabs and Muslims,” SANA said.

Israel last attacked Syria in 2007, when it destroyed a suspected nuclear
reactor. Neither Syria nor Israel has acknowledged that attack officially.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said no one should be surprised that Israel
took action to prevent advanced weapons systems from reaching Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Amnon Sofrin, former head of intelligence in the
Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, said Israel was monitoring the situation in
Syria closely and was concerned about the stockpiles of weapons systems and
chemical weapons in Syria’s possession.

“I think that if we have solid evidence shared by our own partners all over
the world that chemical warheads are being transferred from Syria to Lebanon
to Hezbollah, I think no one would condemn Israel for trying to prevent it,”
he said. “The world should be concerned about the possibility that a terror
organization should possess chemical weapons the way we are concerned,
because we are not the only targets in the Middle East.”

Speaking to Israel’s Army Radio, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said the
international community already had made it clear that it wouldn’t tolerate
Syria’s various weapon arsenals falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

“The world – led by President Obama, who has said this more than once – is
taking all possibilities into account,” Shalom added. “And of course any
development which is a development in a negative direction would be
something that needs stopping and prevention.”

McClatchy special correspondent David Enders contributed to this report from

Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Twitter: @sheeraf

2013-01-31 08:45:27



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