Israel Air Force fighter jets struck military targets in Syria, killing two Syrian soldiers and causing material damage, the Syrian Army said in a statement Thursday morning. According to the statement, the IAF jets fired rockets from Lebanese airspace, striking a military installation near the town of Masyaf in northwestern Syria.
The statement warned against the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region.”
An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson declined to comment on the incident.
According to Arab media reports, the target was the Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS), a Syrian government facility where, according to Western intelligence reports, chemical weapons are produced.
According to the United Nations, the Syrian regime has conducted over 30 chemical attacks throughout the course of the six-year civil war. Earlier this week, UN investigators said they had concluded the regime was behind a chemical weapons attack last April on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikouh in which 83 people were killed.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence tweeted that the “facility at Masyaf produces chemical weapons and and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”
In further tweets, Yadlin said that the strike sends an important message that Israel will not allow the production of strategic weapons in Syria. He also noted that the strike had come as the world powers have ignored the red lines put forward by Israel in Syria. Yadlin added that the strike showed that Russian air defences in Syria could not stop strikes attributed to Israel. He also said that Israel now needed to prepare for possible retaliatory measures by Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, and possibly even Russian steps in protest at the attack.
The Lebanese website Anahar.com said many Lebanese had posted on social media that they heard the sounds of planes passing over Lebanon at low altitude prior to the strike. According to Arab media reports, four jets penetrated Lebanese airspace and and fired at least four missiles into Syria.
The air strike comes as the IDF is conducting its largest military exercise in close to 20 years as it simulates a war with Hezbollah. The 11-day drill, taking place along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, includes tens of thousands of soldiers as the IDF seeks to improve the preparedness of its forces for a broad campaign in the north.
The strike also takes place under the shadow of concern by senior Israeli government officials, over the trajectory of the war in Syria where President Bashar Assad has made advances backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia.
On August 23, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi where he said that Iran’s growing presence in Syria “poses a threat to Israel, the Middle East and the whole world.”
Zeev Elkin, an Israeli cabinet minister who was with Netanyahu in Sochi, said in a radio interview after the talks with Putin that he had “no doubt that it (the meeting) will lead to practical steps”
Prof Moshe Maoz, an expert in Israeli-Syrian relations, told Tazpit Press Service that “the strike was a sign to Putin after the meeting in Sochi, where the two didn’t agree on a strategy toward Syria.”
Maoz added that while Netanyahu wanted to make clear to Russia what Israel’s interests are, the strike was “a dangerous strategic move” as it is contrary to the strategy of Russia and the United States, who both want Assad in power.”