JERUSALEM: The Syrian regime has confirmed Israeli jets bombed a military research centre north of the capital, Damascus, as tension mounts inside Israel about the possible movement of chemical and other weapons from Syria into Lebanon.
Regional security officials - speaking on condition of anonymity to Associated Press - referred to an airstrike on a shipment close to the Syria-Lebanon border carrying sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.
Pro-Assad Syrians defiant over Israeli attack
Syrians loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are defiant in the face of a reported Israeli air attack on a military research center near the Syrian capital.
They said acquisition of these missiles by the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, would be ''game-changing'' in terms of its ability to defend against Israeli air attacks.
In recent days, Israeli government and defence sources had publicly warned about the dangers of 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,'' the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said earlier this week.
The US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, told local media on Tuesday the US and Israel were co-operating fully and were co-ordinated on the issue, while the Israeli Vice-Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom, warned on Sunday if it appeared Syria was losing control of its weapons, Israel may take military action, which could include a pre-emptive strike.
The attack - if it is confirmed that Israel carried it out - could push the parties to the brink of war, the defence correspondent of Yedioth Ahronoth, Alex Fishman, warned.
''Despite the fact that Israel is currently not interested in a large-scale conflagration on the Lebanese front, in the past year - and particularly in the past number of months - the IDF has been preparing physically for such a conflagration both in terms of planning and in terms of training,'' he wrote. ''But more than the physical readiness, the top brass of the IDF is emotionally prepared for the possibility that a conflagration on the Lebanese front will erupt, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. As such, we can assume that Israel is closer today to a conflagration on its northern front than it was at any point since the end of the second Lebanon war.''
Hezbollah has stored the advanced equipment in warehouses on Syrian soil in the past, Mr Fishman wrote, but as the government of President Bashar al-Assad becomes increasingly shaky, Hezbollah leaders have accepted the weapons cannot remain in Syria.
''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,'' Mr Fishman wrote.
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.
There has been some confusion in the past 24 hours over the target of the airstrikes - a military centre or a convoy. US officials confirmed a strike on a convoy of trucks, but gave no further information to Associated Press.
Syrian state television read a military statement saying the attack had been on the military research centre in the Jamraya area north-west of Damascus, killing two people, wounding five and causing severe damage to the facility. The research centre lies between Syria's capital and the Lebanese border, 80 kilometres away.
''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. ''They … carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building.''
Before the airstrikes, Israeli media have reported senior intelligence officials visiting both Moscow and Washington. Israel's National Security Adviser, Major General Yaakov Amidror, travelled to Moscow to discuss the situation in Syria, while the IDF intelligence chief, Aviv Kochavi, reportedly arrived in Washington on Tuesday to meet the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.