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Israel's Syria hit sends warning to Iran, Hezbollah: pundits
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) May 05, 2013

Egypt, Arab League condemn Israeli 'attacks' in Syria
Cairo (AFP) May 05, 2013 - Egypt on Sunday condemned Israeli air strikes on Syria, with the Arab League also demanding that the UN Security Council act to stop what it called "Israeli attacks" against the war-torn country.

The Egyptian presidency said in a statement the air strikes "violated international law and principles that will further complicate the situation." The raids reportedly targeted rockets destined for Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The Arab League, which like Egypt sides with rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, demanded the Security Council "act immediately to end Israeli attacks on Syria," which it called a "dangerous violation of an Arab state's sovereignty."

The presidency in Cairo affirmed "its extreme opposition" to the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on rebel-held areas, but accused Israel of "exploiting its internal conflict".

A senior Israeli source said an overnight aerial assault hit Iranian weapons destined for the Hezbollah, which is closely allied to the Syrian regime.

A diplomatic source in Beirut told AFP three sites were targeted -- a military facility, a nearby weapons depot and an anti-aircraft unit in Sabura, west of the capital Damascus.

Israel behind Syria strikes, hit Iran missiles: source
Jerusalem (AFP) May 05, 2013 - Israel carried out a pre-dawn air strike near Damascus on Sunday, targeting Iranian missiles destined for Lebanon's Hezbollah in the second such raid on Syria in three days, a senior Israeli source said.

"The target was Iranian missiles which were destined for Hezbollah," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The attack targeted a facility just northwest of the Syrian capital, very close to the site of a similar attack late in January which was implicitly confirmed by Israel, the source said.

He also confirmed Israel was behind an earlier strike on a target very close to Damascus airport which took place early on Friday, which also struck Iranian arms destined for the Lebanese Shiite movement.

"Any time Israel learns about the transfer of weapons from Syria to Lebanon, it will attack," he warned.

According to Syria's official SANA news agency, Sunday morning's attack targeted the Jamraya military research centre near Damascus, in the Eastern Ghouta region.

Following the strike, the Israeli air force went on high alert, although the Jewish state was not anticipating a significant response from Damascus, the source said.

"The air force is now on high alert, the highest in recent years," he said.

On Sunday, an Israeli army spokeswoman said two batteries of the Iron Dome missile defence system had been moved to the north of the country.

And later in the day, the army ordered airspace in the north closed until May 9, resulting in the cancellation of flights from Haifa to Eilat, domestic carrier Arkia said in a statement.

Israeli media reported that security in embassies around the world was heightened due to the tensions.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for a five-day visit to China after earlier postponing his departure to hold a security cabinet meeting to discuss the Syria developments.

Before take-off, Netanyahu refused to answer questions by reporters regarding the attack in Syria, and would only stress the importance of the visit to China.

The official Syrian news agency SANA accused Israel of being behind the attack as a show of support for the rebels fighting a two-year insurgency against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"This new Israeli aggression is a clear attempt to alleviate the pressure on the armed terrorist groups after our army beat them back in several regions and after the army's victories on the road to recovering security and stability in Syria," said SANA.

Israeli air strikes near Damascus send a clear message to Iran and Syria that it will not allow arms shipments to Hezbollah, pundits said, playing down fears it would spark a major response.

Although Israel maintained official silence on the strikes, one at dawn on Friday and the second about 48 hours later, a senior Israeli source said they had both targeted "Iranian missiles destined for Hezbollah".

If confirmed, it would be the third time this year Israel has bombed Syrian targets, drawing anger from Tehran and causing the Israeli air force to move to its highest level of alert in years, the source said.

Israel, he told AFP, would not hesitate to act again.

"Any time Israel learns about he transfer of weapons from Syria to Lebanon, it will attack."

Eyal Zisser, a Syria expert at Tel Aviv University, said the raids sent a clear message Israel would no longer allow the transfer of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah.

"If Israel did indeed act in Syria then the message to Bashar (al-Assad) is clear... We are not after you, we are after Hezbollah, after Iran," he said on army radio of the Syrian president who has been fighting a bloody two-year insurgency aimed at toppling his regime.

"Bashar understands this message."

The Jewish state has frequently warned it would not tolerate the transfer of chemical agents or advanced arms to Hezbollah, and although the weapons targeted would not have affected the strategic balance in the region, Israel was showing a tough new line, he said.

"Israel is actually changing the equation and saying: 'From now on, I won't allow what's being going on for 20 years -- the transfer of weapons (from Iran) to Hezbollah," Zisser said.

Israel was exploiting Assad's weakness to do what it was unable to in the past by "attacking Iranian weapons en route to Lebanon while they are still on Syrian territory," he said, describing it as an effective "blockade" on Hezbollah.

"That's the strategic meaning -- it's not about Syria, or Bashar, but about Hezbollah and Iran."

Tzahi HaNegbi, an MP from the ruling Likud party who is known as a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel been warning for years it would not tolerate advanced arms reaching Hezbollah.

"Israel warned, even before the start of the Syrian civil war, that it will act to prevent the supply of advanced weapons to Hezbollah," he told army radio.

"What we want is mainly to ensure that with all the chaos in Syria, we don't see Hezbollah getting stronger... which could result in us being dragged into a conflict with Hezbollah in which we absorb losses as we did in the past because we didn't act in time to damage its growing capabilities."

Israel fought a major 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006 which killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Despite fears the raids could spark flare-up, Israel did not appear to be gearing up for a major confrontation, although it shifted two batteries of its vaunted Iron Dome anti-missile system to the north.

And Netanyahu made no immediate move to cancel his five-day trip to China, but his office confirmed his departure had been "delayed by two hours" without confirming reports it was for a security cabinet meeting.

Although commentators largely ruled out any armed Syrian response, they warned Israel could be playing with fire.

"If we continue with this policy, it require caution," said Zisser. "The question is what Iran and Hezbollah will do over time in light of the new reality Israel is creating."

"We are not on the eve of a war, for the moment," said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli general and head of national security, noting it was "not in the interest of Assad or Hezbollah".

"The risk of war is low but we never know if reality is changing before our eyes," he said. "It may be that we're treading a very fine line."

The fall of the Assad regime would benefit Israel because it would halt weapons transfers, he said.

"It is now in Israel's interest to speed up the downfall of Assad who is being blackmailed by Hezbollah and Iran who demand that he continue transferring weapons to Hezbollah in exchange for their support in the civil war," he said.

"If Assad falls tomorrow... with all the problems this would cause, at least it would mean there would be no more transfers of weapons to Hezbollah."


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