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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Israel Launches Second Airstrike in Syria, Targeting Weapons Shipment

Israeli forces have carried out an airstrike against a shipment of sophisticated missiles bound for the Lebanese political and military organization Hezbollah, officials in Washington and Israel told reporters Saturday.
Israeli officials described the missiles targeted in the Friday strike as “game-changing” weapons, according to the Associated Press. They said they were not chemical weapons, but advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles.
A Lebanese security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Lebanon is still investigating reports of the strike but that it was “most probably” carried out from Lebanese airspace. Lebanese authorities and residents have reported multiple, noisy overflights of Israeli jets during the past 48 hours.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Friday that Israeli warplanes have repeatedly violated his country’s airspace in recent days, and he called on the United Nations to press Israel to halt them.
The attack, Israeli officials said, took place a day after it was approved in a Thursday meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet.
One U.S. official, who also declined to be identified, told Reuters on Friday the target was a building, rather than a convoy.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the development. Spokesmen for Netanyahu and the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the reports.
The strike, the second by Israel in Syria this year, coincides with escalating concerns that the Syrian war is drawing in its neighbors, with Hezbollah fighters now playing an important role in some of the battles raging inside the country.
Israel did not officially confirm that it had carried out the earlier strike in January on a convoy reportedly carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah along a road leading into Lebanon from Damascus, and the fact that officials swiftly acknowledged U.S. reports of this attack pointed to Israel’s growing determination to directly confront the threat posed by the Syrian conflict.
Netanyahu and military and intelligence commanders in Israel have sounded the alarm in recent weeks, saying they were virtually certain that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons in at least two small-scale attacks.
After Israeli intelligence officers asserted that they were “nearly 100 percent” sure that Syria had deployed chemical weapons, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that U.S. intelligence agencies “assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”
Despite the caveats, the disclosure has put President Obama under pressure to respond. He has described the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” that Syria dare not cross.
While Obama has said that all options remain on the table, including military action, on Friday he said, “I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria — American boots on the ground in Syria — would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria.”
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