Last week Israel carried out a controversial air strike within Syria. Initial press reports cited Iraeli intelligence sources as claiming that the strike hit a convoy of trucks carrying anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to Lebanon. The Syrian government, however, claimed that the strikes had hit a military research facility just outside Damascus.
Now it appears that the Israeli air force may have hit additional targets within Syria. TIME magazine has claimed that western intelligence official told them of “at least one to two additional targets” which were hit during the raid, although the identity of these targets was not given.
The Syrian government claimed that the strikes hit “a scientific research center responsible for raising the levels of resistance and self-defense in Jamraya area in Damascus Countryside.” (see here). According to TIME this research enter was the Scientific Studies and Research Center, and “warehouses [at the SSRC] stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons” were destroyed by the attack.
Israel has confirmed that it attacked a target inside Syria, but declined to give any further details.
Officials also told Time Magazine that Israel had been given a ‘green light’ from Washington to launch strikes within Syria, and that the US is poised to carry out similar attacks themselves around Aleppo if rebel advances threaten sites associated with the governments chemical and biological weapons program.
Israel and other Western Powers have made it clear that the use or movement of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles would constitute a ‘red line’ which would trigger a direct intervention. If the TIME report is correct then this could indicate that the Israeli air strikes may have been designed to prevent chemical weapons being moved from the facility outside Damascus, and that this strike may be the first of many direct foreign interventions.
The nature of the strike may also indicate the way that Israel and the way that Israel and the US plans to go about this. It would be politically difficult for either country to provide substantive support to the rebels, or put any significant number of troops on the ground. Establishing a no-fly zones – one of the intervention options which has been mooted in the past – would be a major operation, as would putting troops on the ground to take control of key facilities or to seize chemical weapons stockpiles. It seems more likely now, that we will see a series of short surgical strikes designed to prevent the ‘movement or use’ of chemical weapons before it happens. This has obvious advantages, but unforunately does reduce the requirements before an operation is launched, because it suggests that they may no longer wait until the red line has been crossed, but instead strike against anyone they suspect of approaching it…