Israel fires missile along Lebanon-Syria border

Washington Post

Originally published at

BEIRUT — Israeli aircraft fired at a truck convoy along the Lebanon-Syria border early Wednesday, a Western official and a former Lebanese security official said, days after a cabinet minister warned Israel might take action to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons to Islamic militants from inside Syria.

The former Lebanese official said the missile from an unmanned aircraft struck a truck carrying weapons. The truck was on the Syrian side of the border heading toward Lebanon, according to the former official, who said he had been briefed on the incident by high-ranking Lebanese security officials.

The Associated Press, citing unnamed regional security officials, said Israel had been making plans in recent days to hit a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles from Syria to the militantly anti-Israel group Hezbollah in Lebanon. The wire service said the shipment included sophisticated, Russian-made SA-17 missiles — weapons that one Israeli analyst said in an interview are as troubling to Israel’s defense establishment as chemical weapons.It is the first air strike by Israel into Syria since 2007, when military aircraft bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. Israel fired anti-tank missiles into Syrian from the ground November, after errant shells from Syria crossed the border into the Golan region, which Israel controls.

The Western official and a U.S. official said there is no indication the truck targeted by the Israeli strike was carrying chemical weapons — which have been under intense scrutiny by both the United States and Israel as the brutal, bloody civil conflict in Syria has intensified. The officials said Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles appear to be secure, despite ongoing chaos in that country. They spoke on condition of anonymity, because Israel so far has refused comment on reports about the strike.

“We do not comment on reports of this kind,” a spokeswoman for the Israeli army said Wednesday when asked about a Reuters report that Israeli military jets had struck a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

The Lebanese military also did not confirm the airstrike, but said 12 Israeli warplanes had violated Lebanese airspace in less than 24 hours, flying low in several sorties over villages in southern Lebanon, with the last flyover at 2 a.m. local time (7 p.m. Tuesday in Washington).

Lebanon has frequently complained of such violations of its airspace by Israel.

The former Lebanese official said the truck was hit at 1 a.m. There were no casualties, he said.

On Sunday, Israel’s vice prime minister, Silvan Shalom, told Army Radio that movement of chemical weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria or to the Hezbollah guerrilla group in Lebanon would be “a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations.” Shalom said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had convened a meeting of top security chiefs last week to discuss Syria’s chemical arsenal.

In public comments Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet session, Netanyahu said Israel had to keep an eye on “lethal weaponry in Syria, which is breaking apart.” He added that there were “many threats, an accumulation of threats” for which Israel had to prepare.

Israeli and U.S. security officials have said that so far Syria’s chemical stockpiles appear to be secured. But there is a parallel worry in Israel about the possible transfer of advanced conventional weapons to Hezbollah.

Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s national security council, said that the transfer to Hezbollah of weapons considered to be game-changers, such as the Russian anti-aircraft missiles or long-range SCUD missiles, would be viewed with equal gravity.

The anti-aircraft weapons could curtail Israel’s air dominance in Lebanon, and the long-range missiles would give Hezbollah enhanced strike range across Israel’s entire territory.

“These are no less troubling than chemical weapons,” Eiland said. “They are more widespread and not as tightly controlled by the regime, so they can fall into the hands of Hezbollah.”

Keeping silent about a military strike against such weapons had the advantage of not goading the other side to respond, Eiland said. “When you publicly announce that you attacked, you force the other side to react because it can’t bear the humiliation,” he said.

Two of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense batteries were positioned Sunday in northern Israel, in what the army called part a routine rotation around the country that was not connected to the current security situation.

Greenberg reported from Jerusalem. Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.

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