Israel vows to deny Hezbollah weapons as details of Syria raid emerge

November 1, 2013

Israel said Friday it would not allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, commenting after a raid on Syria reportedly hit an air force garrison thought to hold Russian-made missiles destined for the militant group.

Israel has a clear policy on Syria and will continue to enforce it, officials said after U.S. and European reports that Israel had launched a new attack on its warring neighbor.

Israel declined to comment on reports in the U.S. media that its planes had hit a Syrian base near the port of Latakia, targeting missiles it thought were destined for its Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah.

“We have said many times that we will not allow the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” said Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the inner security cabinet, which met hours before the alleged Israeli attack.

“We are sticking to this policy, and I say so without denying or confirming this report,” he told Israel Radio.

Israel is thought to have attacked targets in Syria on at least four occasions this year, most recently in July, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he would not let sophisticated antiaircraft, anti-ship and long-range missiles move from the control of Syria to its Hezbollah ally.

One U.S. official and two European officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Israel was understood to have carried out the latest airstrike Wednesday. They did not identify the target in Syria.

An activist in Latakia said an explosion had rocked a garrison area that houses an air force brigade loyal to President Bashar al-Assad near the village of Snobar Jableh at mid-afternoon. Ambulance sirens were heard, but the activist, who calls himself Khaled, said there was a “total media blackout” about the incident.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted reports saying there were four or five explosions at the base, but only limited damage. The Al-Arabiya news network said SAM-8 anti-aircraft missiles were destroyed.

Former Syrian intelligence agent Afaq Ahmad, a defector now in exile in France, said Thursday that his contacts in Syria, including in Latakia province, told him that Russian-made ballistic missiles had been kept at the site that was attacked.

Assad’s forces, backed by Hezbollah and Iran, are battling rebels in a civil war that has killed well over 100,000 people.

Khaled said Assad loyalists were frustrated about Israel’s apparent impunity, recalling that the Syrian president had previously indicated that Syria would respond to further attacks.

“Yet Israel keeps hitting us and there’s no retaliation. So even the staunchest loyalists are getting very upset,” he said.

Technically at war with Syria, Israel spent decades in a stable standoff with Damascus while the Assad family ruled unchallenged. Israel has been reluctant to intervene openly in the Islamist-dominated insurgency rocking Syria, but it is determined not to see Hezbollah profit from the unrest.

Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill in a 34-day war six years ago. Israel has warned that any future conflict will be much more brutal.

— Reuters

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