Iran blames Israel for Syrian airstrike

Iran is blaming Israel for an attack in Syria, and Iran’s foreign minister threatened revenge saying the attack was “clearly coordinated with the West.”  

“The attack reveals the cooperation between the rebels (trying to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad) and the 'Zionist regime,' Ali Akhbar Salehi said.

Syria has said the attack fell on a military research center, but diplomats have identified the target as a weapons convoy reportedly carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has not commented publicly on the strike, although U.S. officials told The New York Times that Israel has informed Washington of its intentions to attack. Syria said the strike hit a Syrian research facility and killed two people.

Salehi’s deputy warned that “the Israeli bombing in Syria will have grave consequences in Tel Aviv,” reported Iranian television.

The Addiyar daily newspaper, published in Lebanon, reported that the militaries of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have gone on heightened alert. The newspaper, which is seen as pro-Syrian, also said that large numbers of Syrian forces have deployed on the border with Israel.

Hezbollah condemned the Israeli attack, which it said targeted a Syrian research center.

“Hezbollah expresses its full solidarity with Syria’s leadership, army and people,” it said in a statement.

Tensions are running high between Israel and Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Analysts say that it is certainly likely that Israel is behind the attack.

“Is it surprising that Israel has been keeping a very, very close eye on what’s been going on in Syria? I’m not surprised at all,” Francis Tusa, the editor of Defense Analysis, told The Media Line. “Hezbollah has thousands and thousands of artillery rockets and were they in a position to launch all of them it could cause significant damage to Israel. Hezbollah potentially has enough weapons to swamp the Iron Dome system.”

The Iron Dome missile and rocket interception system proved successful during the recent confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in November, shooting down almost all of the rockets aimed at Israeli population centers. But Hezbollah is believed to have much longer-range rockets that can cover much of Israel.

Other analysts say that acquiring the SA-17 would give Hezbollah a distinct edge.

“These anti-aircraft missiles are far more sophisticated than the earlier SA missiles,” Yiftah Shapir, an expert on weapons systems at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) think tank in Tel Aviv told The Media Line. “It would really compromise Israel’s ability to operate in Lebanese airspace.”

Shapir also believes that the transfer of weapons was coordinated between Syria and Hezbollah, which has consistently supported Assad’s regime. Israel is especially concerned about the fate of Syria’s large stocks of chemical weapons if the Assad regime falls.

That would also be troubling for Hezbollah.

“The Syrian regime been clinging on for a good number of months and its obituary has been written a number of times,” Tusa said. “But if you were going to see a significant change in the Syrian regime it would mean seeing Hezbollah’s paymaster and armorer disappear. That would be a massive concern for them.”

The Syrian rebels are believed to be in control of about 75 percent of the country but Assad maintains in control of Damascus.

In Israel, there is little sense of an impending conflict with Hezbollah. Hotels near the borders with Syria and Lebanon are full as Israelis are flocking to see the snow there. But intelligence officials are clearly concerned and have not forgotten the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 that ended with a United Nations cease-fire.

“The question of another war with Hezbollah is not if, but when,” a senior Israeli intelligence official told The Media Line. “It is only a matter of time.”