Israel hints at more airstrikes on Syria

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

WASHINGTON -- A senior Israeli official signaled Wednesday that Israel was considering further military strikes on Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants, and he warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his government would face crippling consequences if it retaliated against Israel.

The Israeli official said: "Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region.

"If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies," the official said, "he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate."

The Israeli official, who has been briefed by high-level officials on the Syria situation in the past two days, declined to be identified, citing the need to protect internal Israeli deliberations. He contacted The New York Times on Wednesday.

The precise motives for Israel's warning were uncertain: Israel could be trying to restrain Syria's behavior without undertaking further military action, or alerting other countries to another strike. That would ratchet up the tension in an already-fraught situation in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than two years.

Nearly two weeks ago, Israeli warplanes carried out two strikes, the first hitting bases of the elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that U.S. officials have called the country's main chemical weapons site.

A more limited strike May 3 at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah. The Israeli government did not confirm either of the attacks, which followed one earlier this year.

The Syrian government condemned Israel for the assaults, saying they "opened the door to all possibilities." The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, declared in an interview with Agence France-Presse, "We will respond immediately and harshly to any additional attack by Israel." He described the Israeli strikes as a "declaration of war."

Mr. Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, have both said in recent days that the Israeli-Syrian border, which has been relatively quiet despite more than two years of civil war inside Syria, could become a "resistance front," in response to Israeli aggression.

On Wednesday, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that several mortar shells, fired from across the Syrian border, had landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The newspaper attributed the information to an Israel Defense Forces official. The shells landed on Mount Hermon, in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, around 6 a.m. Wednesday

The rockets were the latest in a series of what Israel has generally considered errant fire from internal Syrian fighting across the armistice line that landed in its territory, and did not cause any injuries or damage.

Israel did not fire back Wednesday, as it has on several previous occasions, but the incident did cause the closing for several hours of Mount Hermon, a popular tourist site, during a Jewish holiday in which hiking in the Golan is popular.



You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here