The Israeli air force has getting down to business in Syria. First they blew up a convoy of trucks that went toddling across the Lebanese border in the dead of night, as related by Fox News:
Israel launched an airstrike inside Syria overnight near the border with Lebanon, according to U.S. and regional officials.
The regional officials said Israel had been planning in the days leading up to the airstrike to hit a convoy of trucks shipping weapons bound for the Islamist militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. They said the shipment included sophisticated, Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be strategically “game-changing” in the hands of Hezbollah.
A U.S. official confirmed the strike, saying it hit a convoy of trucks.
Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press noticed a Syrian “military research center” getting an extreme makeover:
Syrian state TV has confirmed that Israeli warplanes bombed a military research center northwest of the capital, Damascus.
U.S. and regional security officials reported the strike Wednesday but did not say where it took place.
State TV says the strike targeted a military research center in the area of Jermana.
It says the strike caused material damage and the center was used to advance Syrian military capabilities.
I wonder how the research performed at this center “advanced Syrian military capabilities.” Did they design anti-aircraft missiles? If so, they did a lousy job, because Israeli warplanes just flew in and blew the place up, without much trouble at all. The Jerusalem Post says “two people were killed and five wounded in the attack on Jamraya.”
Thus far, by the standards of the Middle East, everyone involved has been remarkably mellow. It’s not entirely clear which side of the Syria-Lebanon border that convoy was on when the Israelis took it out, while the military research center is a good 10 miles from the border. The JPost suggests some possible reasons for the low-key reaction:
Such a strike would fit its existing policy of pre-emptive covert and overt action to curb Iranian-backed Hezbollah and does not necessarily indicate a major escalation of the war in Syria. It does, however, indicate how the erosion of Assad’s family rule after 42 years is seen by Israel as posing a threat.
Some analysts suggested Hezbollah was moving its own arms caches from stores in Syria, fearing rebels would overrun them.
Though Israel this week echoed concerns in the United States about Syrian chemical weapons, officials say a more immediate worry is that the civil war could see weapons that are capable of denting its massive superiority in airpower and tanks from reaching Hezbollah; the group fought Israel in 2006 and remains a more pressing threat than its Syrian and Iranian sponsors.
Wednesday’s strike could have been a rapid response to an opportunity. But a stream of Israeli comment on Syria in recent days was a reminder of a standing policy of pre-emptive strikes and may have been intended to limit surprise in world capitals.
The Syrians did rouse themselves long enough to claim that the Israelis were really just trying to aid their terrorist puppets, who have been working to overthrow the debonair leader of Syria, Bashar Assad:
The Syrian army statement denied that the strike had targeted a convoy headed from Syria to Lebanon, instead portraying the strike as linked to the civil war pitting Assad’s forces against rebels seeking to push him from power.
“This proves that Israel is the instigator, beneficiary and sometimes executor of the terrorist acts targeting Syria and its people,” the statement said.
The Israeli military declined to comment, and the location could not be independently confirmed because of reporting restrictions in Syria.
To modify the old Zen riddle, if a convoy blows up in a forest full of reporting restrictions, does it make any sound?