Initial reports suggested that Israel conducted an airstrike on a convoy carrying sophisticated weaponry that was preparing to cross the Syria-Lebanon border. Israeli officials said the vehicles may have contained chemical weapons and Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,” a regional security source told Reuters.
But the latest reports from Syria suggest that the airstrike hit the Jamraya research center in the suburbs of Damascus, far from the Lebanese border. An anonymous diplomatic source told Reuters that chemical weapons may be stored at the center, and that the vehicles in Hezbollah convoy were unlikely to be carrying such arms.
Israeli officials have not commented on the airstrike, but the assault may have revealed Tel Aviv’s plans, experts believe. After months of sustained rebel assaults on Syrian air defense systems and bases, the Israeli airstrike follows a pattern of other recent attempts to undermine Syria’s military capabilities.
Israeli officials have frequently expressed fears that Syrian President Bashar Assad will lose control of the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles. But Dr. Ali Mohamad, editor-in-chief of the Syria Tribune news website, believes the fears of chemical weapons was a pretext to destroy Syria's military research centers and ensure that Damascus is unable to produce arms for its military or regional allies.
Syrians know that “this is not at all about chemical weapons,” Dr. Mohamad told RT. “It’s about stopping the Syrian scientists’ military research projects.”
“It finally makes sense because the rebels or as they like to call themselves the revolutionaries, they have been attacking air defense bases near Damascus for the past seven months,” Dr. Mohamad said. “They’ve managed to attack the S-200 base and over four other surface-to-air missile bases. Now this followed by an airstrike from Israel. So it all adds up, it makes sense. It only shows that Israel has a great interest in the instability in Syria and that it is being helped by groups of armed rebels in Syria.”
“Military research centers are responsible for developing weapons, in particular land-to-land long range missiles,” and Israel wants to stop this research process, Dr. Mohamed explained. “Of course Israel will claim that this is connected to a chemical weapons arsenal, but this is of course not true because nobody stores chemical weapons in a research center.”
“Let’s remember that the Syrian official who was responsible for all military research projects has been assassinated in Damascus by the rebels,” he said. “Let’s also remember that the person who orchestrated the Syrian long-range missile project colonel Dawoud Rajiha was also assassinated in Damascus. This is about stopping the Syrian scientific military research projects and is about breaking the link that will help [Israel] overcome the Lebanese resistance and the Palestinian resistance.”
Syria will likely retaliate, but not in the form of a direct attack on Israel. Instead, Damascus will seek to arm Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance, Dr. Mohamed said.
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African news wire, told RT that the Israeli airstrike on Syria is the opening of a new front in the assault on the government of Syrian President Assad.
Western nations have supported the Syrian rebels for the past two years, and are therefore invested in drawing international attention away from the atrocities carried out by some rebel groups on the ground.
“The rebels have been involved in tremendous human right violations inside the country,” Azikiwe said. “We saw what happened just yesterday with the finding of some 80 people who’ve been massacred, with handcuffs behind their backs shot in the head. And of course these actions carried out by the US-backed rebels inside of Syria are tremendously damaging to their image internationally. So in order to deflect attention away from these developments Israel has launched an air raid, alleging that Syria is transporting weapons to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”
Azikiwe predicted that both the US and Israel will use the threat of Syrian chemical weapons falling into Hezbollah’s hands as an excuse for this airstrike, as well as similar future military actions in the region.
Israel’s airstrike is also aimed at putting further pressure on Assad’s government: “Part of that strategy of course has been the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey,” he said. “And with the airstrikes that took place today this is designed to create a sense of encirclement.”
Azikiwe said that Israel seeks to exploit the situation to escalate another conflict on its borders – throughout its history, Israel has operated in a state of “permanent war” with his neighbors. With financial, political and military support from the US and NATO, Israel can afford to maintain its hegemony throughout the Middle East, he said.