It has been confirmed by U.S. and regional officials that Israel launched an airstrike inside Syria, near the border with Lebanon. Israel’s plan was to intercept a shipment of Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah.
Syrian state TV claims that another airstrike hit a military research center near Damascus, destroying a center used to advance Syrian capabilities, along with a nearby building, killing two workers and wounding five others. An alleged Israeli airstrike in 2007 destroyed an unfinished Syrian nuclear reactor.
Israeli military intelligence fears that President Bashar Assad’s regime could pass chemical weapons to Hezbollah or other militant groups, changing the balance of power in the region. U.S. officials say they are keeping track of Syria’s chemical weapons and confirm the weapons are still under the regime’s control.
Damascus may have obtained a battery of SA-17s from Russia, according to Israeli officials. In a “routine move,” earlier this week, Israel moved a battery of its new “Iron Dome” rocket defense system to the northern city of Haifa. Haifa had been battered by Hezbollah rocket fire in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.
Lebanese military officials claim that Israeli warplanes have increased their activity over Lebanon in the past week, including at least 12 sorties in less than 24 hours in the country’s south. According to a statement, the last of the sorties took place at 2 a.m. local time Wednesday and four warplanes flew in over the southernmost coastal town of Naqoura, hovering for several hours over villages in southern Lebanon before leaving Lebanese airspace. It said similar flights by eight other warplanes were conducted Tuesday.
A Lebanese security official said the flights were part of “increased activity” in the past week but did not elaborate. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The area of Lebanon where the flights took place borders southern Syria.
Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace are not uncommon and Lebanese authorities routinely lodge complaints at the U.N. against the flights. v
The Associated Press contributed to this story.