Syrian state media said the air attack had targeted a military and scientific research facility. The Israeli military declined to comment on the strikes, but the Associated Press quoted an anonymous Middle East intelligence official as confirming that the research facility was hit.
The airstrikes targeted Fateh-110 missiles, which have precision guidance systems and may have been destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the official said.
Although it was unclear whether Assad’s government would pursue direct military retaliation, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the attack proved that Israel is collaborating with Syrian rebels.
“The Israeli attack on military sites in Syria is proof that there is communication between Israel and the terrorist groups who take their orders from al-Qaeda,” the ministry said in a statement broadcast on state television. The government uses the blanket term “terrorists” to refer to its opponents, who range from secular activists to militants linked to al-Qaeda.
Threat of weapons transfer
There was no official confirmation from Israel that it had carried out the airstrikes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Israel on Sunday night for a long-planned trip to China.
In Israel, retired military commanders said they doubted that Syria would retaliate with any lethal force, saying the Assad government does not want to draw Israel deeper into the conflict.
As a precaution, however, the Israeli military announced that it had deployed two Iron Dome missile defense batteries near its northern border in response to “ongoing situational assessments.” Israeli media also reported that airspace over northern Israel and the city of Haifa was closed to civilian flights.
Israeli defense analysts said the airstrikes may have been opportunistic, rather than reflective of an immediate threat.
Israel said last week that it was “very close to 100 percent” certain that Assad’s government had employed chemical weapons against its own people. Although Israel is concerned about the possibility of chemical munitions falling into the hands of extremists, analysts said, its military is more interested in stopping immediate transfers of sophisticated but conventional weaponry from Syria to Hezbollah.
Those weapons include advanced air defense missile systems such as the SA-17, which Israel targeted in a strike in January; Russian-made surface-to-sea missiles, whose 186-mile range leaves Israel’s new natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean Sea vulnerable; and upgraded versions of Iranian medium-range Fateh-110 ballistic missiles, which appeared to be the target of the Friday and Sunday airstrikes and could sharply improve Hezbollah’s military capabilities.