Israeli forces have reportedly attacked a convoy on the Syria-Lebanon border, unnamed security sources say, as tension mounts inside Israel about the possible movement of chemical and other weapons from Syria into Lebanon.
The Israel Defence Force would not confirm or deny the reports. A spokeswoman said on Wednesday night: “We have no response.”
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Reports of Israeli airstrike on Syria border
Israel's military attacked a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight, regional sources say.
Unnamed sources who spoke to Reuters and Agence France-Presse news agencies were unable to confirm which side of the border the attack may have happened or what the convoy may have been carrying.
The Syrian army denied the reports, instead accusing Israel of carrying out an air strike on a military research centre near Damascus, killing two people.
Residents who spoke to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity said the strike targeted a non-conventional weapons research centre some 15 kilometres north-west of the Syrian capital.
‘‘Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence,’’ Syria’s army said.
The warplanes entered Syrian airspace via Mount Hermon, or Jebel al-Sheikh in Arabic, at low altitude and under the radar, the army said in the statement carried by state media. ‘‘They . . . carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building,’’ state television quoted the military as saying.
Residents told Agence France-Presse that six rockets hit the complex, leaving it partially destroyed, causing a fire and killing two people.
In the lead-up to the unconfirmed attack on the convoy, Israeli government and defence sources had publicly warned about the dangers of high-tech anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah.
“We are currently dealing with the most serious of threats and we must be prepared for any potential development,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Vice-Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli radio on Sunday if it appeared Syria was losing control of its weapons, Israel may take military action, which could include a pre-emptive strike, while local media carried several reports warning of increased concerns about Syria and Lebanon.
“If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon, Israel will probably not hesitate – and will attack,” wrote Yedioth Ahronoth's defence correspondent Alex Fishman on Monday.
“In the past, Hezbollah has stored the advanced equipment in warehouses on Syrian soil. But in the past months, in light of Assad's increasingly unsteady status, Hezbollah figures have understood that the weapons cannot remain there. And as soon as these weapons reach Lebanon, they are swallowed up in secret underground stockpiles.
“Looking for them will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”
Despite the concern, by Tuesday, the tide of opinion had turned on the prime minister, with unnamed high-ranking officials from Israel's foreign ministry accusing Mr Netanyahu of deliberately ratcheting up fears about Syria's chemical weapons for his own political gain.
The situation in Syria had not changed in the last two weeks, the unnamed officials told the Maariv newspaper, saying the leaks on Syria from the cabinet meeting were designed to help Netanyahu form his coalition government.
“Netanyahu is sowing fear and terror similar to the way he did on the Iranian issue last year. It's [an act of] self-frightening,” a European diplomat – also unnamed – told Maariv.
Talks between Mr Netanyahu and his potential coalition partners are ongoing following last week's close election result, which saw the right-wing bloc win 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and the centre-left with 59 seats.
Reports from Lebanese media, quoting a statement from the Lebanese Army, indicate that Israeli Air Force jets flew into Lebanon's air space in three separate missions late on Tuesday and early Wednesday.
Israel would not comment on those reports.
These come just days after the Lebanon Army stated that Israeli jets had violated Lebanon's air space in four separate incidents on Saturday, with the Daily Star newspaper reporting the fighter jets had been seen over the Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria.
As the government of Bashar al-Assad showed further signs of weakening, concerns throughout the region and inside Israel would continue to rise, warned strategic intelligence analyst Avi Melamed.
“It is quite obvious that the tension is escalating – any way you look at Syria, it is a lethal combination of a chaotic situation, instability, a large amount of weapons and groups that are motivated by radical ideology,” Mr Melamed said.
Israel had signalled very clearly what it regards as a red line regarding Syria.
“Israel openly said the moving of not only chemical weapons but also weapons that would be considered as tipping the military balance between Israel and Hezbollah would be crossing a red line and Israel would not stand by if this happened.”
The weapons would include advanced anti-aircraft weapons, land to sea missiles and other high-tech weaponry, he said.
Any action involving Syria would automatically draw in the Iranian regime and Hezbollah, Mr Melamed said, given Iran has already indicated that an attack on Syria would be viewed as an attack on Iran.