Israel sends message with dawn attack in Syria
In an early morning air raid Israel targeted weapons being transfered from Syrian President Assad's military to Hezbollah. Official secrecy shrouded the event, which reportedly killed two in Jamraya (located between Damascus and Lebanon's border).
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But Israeli sources said on Tuesday that Syria's advanced conventional weapons, much of it Russian-built hardware able to destroy Israeli planes and tanks, would represent as much of a threat to Israel as chemical arms in the hands of an enemy.Skip to next paragraph
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Hezbollah fighters and the Syrian army have close relations and, while Damascus may have been reluctant to hand over key parts of its own arsenal to its Lebanese allies, some analysts suggest that if Syrian or Hezbollah commanders fear hardware is about to fall into rebel hands they might try to move it across the border - possibly even without formal government approval.
On Wednesday, Israel's Shalom would not be drawn on whether Israeli forces had been in action in the north, but described the country as part of an international coalition seeking to stop spillover from Syria's two-year-old insurgency.
Recalling that President Barack Obama had warned Assad of U.S. action if his forces used chemical weapons, Shalom told Israel Radio: "The world, led by President Obama, who has said this more than once, is taking all possibilities into account.
"Any development ... in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping and prevention."
During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel's air forced faced little threat, though its navy was taken aback when a missile hit a ship. Israeli tanks suffered losses to rockets, and commanders are concerned Hezbollah may get better weaponry.
In what might have been a sign of seeking to reassure major powers, Israeli media reported this week that the country's national security adviser was despatched to Russia and military intelligence chief to the United States for consultations.
Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London saw any strike on Wednesday as intended to deliver a signal rather than heralding a major escalation from Israel.
"The Israelis are sending a message not just to Hezbollah but also to Assad's forces that they have no wish to get dragged in, but chemical weapons and certain types of missiles are a red line for them, and that regime forces ought to signal, in turn, to Hezbollah that they should proceed with caution," he said.
Worries about Syria and Hezbollah have sent Israelis lining up for government-issued gas masks in recent days. According to the Israel post office, which is handling distribution of the kits, demand roughly trebled this week.
"It looks like every kind of discourse on this or that security matter contributes to public vigilance," its deputy director Haim Azaki told Israel's Army Radio. "We have really seen a very significant jump in demand."
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut, Myra MacDonald in London, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by David Stamp)