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The Assad regime crossed Israel's red line on transferring sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel has responded immediately with air strikes.

Actually the policy is not new - whenever Israel's vital interests are at stake, Israel will pre-empt and not wait until it is too late. This is the key to understanding the strategy behind the air raids that knocked out the truck convoy transporting sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah and destroyed a chemical weapons facility not far from Damascus. The Syrian army is known already to be equipped with mustard, VX (nerve), and Sarin gas weaponry, as well as SCUD missiles that can deliver them to Israeli population centers.

On the night on January 30, Israeli aircraft reportedly bombed the truck convoy while it was still traveling to south Lebanon but still inside Syrian territory. Syria has long been a main supplier of weapons to Hezbollah, so what was special about this delivery? The SA-17 is a highly effective anti- aircraft missile capable of intercepting aircraft from low level to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Mounted on vehicles it is very mobile and can launch its missiles independently. In brief, it is difficult to detect and knock out. It would pose a lethal threat to Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon and northern Israel. Consider this: in March 2011, the Washington Post published a detailed map of over 100 Shitte villages in southern Lebanon where Hezbollah had secretly stored large quantities of missiles and rockets for bombarding Israel.  These weapons were smuggled into Lebanon from Syria and Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, under the noses of the U.N. peace monitors and in flagrant violation of UN Resolution 1701 that was supposed to prevent such a new missile buildup on the Lebanese border. Apparently leaked by Israeli intelligence, the map served as an Israeli warning to Hezbollah: 'We know what you're up to and if you again rocket Galilee, we will consider these villages to be military targets!' (Hezbollah had obviously put a great effort into constructing these elaborate launch pads and it was also self-evident that even if it tried to change these missile locations this would also be detected by Israel).


'Aye, there the rub!'

If Hezbollah got their hands on a sophisticated anti-aircraft defense system, this could neutralize Israel's capability to destroy the vast array of missiles in southern Lebanon. In other words, it could be a game changer. (When it first became known that Russia had supplied Syria with SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, IsraCast quoted a senior Israeli intelligence official as saying the Russia weapon presented a new and serious threat to the Israel Air Force which would be 'challenged' to find effective counter-measures.) In recent years, Israeli aircraft also reportedly attacked truck convoys in Sudan that were transporting Iranian weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


Syria's reaction...

Eager to conceal its transfer of sophisticated Russian weapons to Hezbollah, Syria denied any knowledge of the Israeli air strike. On the other hand, Damascus highlighted the Israeli strike not on a chemical weapons site but on a 'scientific research facility' near Damascus that killed two people and injured a number of others. The reason for this is that rebel forces are closing in on the area and the Assad regime wants to create the impression that Israel and the U.S. are working in collusion with the rebels to overthrow the regime. (The New York Times gave the Pentagon a 'heads-up' on its air strikes). The most vociferous so far has been Iran which warned that the air strikes 'would have serious ramifications for Tel Aviv'.


Photo: Dover IDF

In any case, although the IDF is obviously on a high state of alert these days along the Syrian and Lebanese borders, life continues as usual along the Israeli side of the frontier. But clearly Israel is primed for further military intervention from Syria's massive and dangerous arsenals falling into the hands of Hezbollah. Just hours before the first Israeli raid, Air Force commander Gen. Amir Eshel said: "Syria is in the process of disintegration and no one can forecast what the day after will bring. It has huge quantities of weapons some non-conventional and some state-of-the-art". For Israel this is a clear and present danger if there ever was one. Until now President Assad has refrained from using them against Israel knowing full well Israel's severe reaction would swiftly topple his regime. Not only does no one know about the day after, the way things are happening in Syria today, no one knows what will happen in the next hour. 

David Essing

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