May 4, 2013 Chris Hedges & Al Jazeera & The New York Times
srael has launched an airstrike into Syria, apparently targeting a suspected weapons site, the Associated Press reported, citing US officials. It did not appear that a chemical weapons site was targeted. American officials did not provide details on the target of the Israeli strike, but United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.
(May 4, 2013) -- Israel has launched an airstrike into Syria, apparently targeting a suspected weapons site, the Associated Press reported, citing US officials. The strike occurred overnight on Thursday into Friday, the officials told the AP.
It did not appear that a chemical weapons site was targeted, the officials said, and one official said the strike appeared to have hit a warehouse. The US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly. Israel has targeted weapons in the past that it believes are being delivered to the Lebanon-based movement Hezbollah.
Earlier this week, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said his group would assist Syrian President Bashar Assad if needed in the effort to put down a 2-year-old uprising.
Israeli embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui would not comment on Friday night specifically on the report of an Israeli strike into Syria. "What we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon," Sagui said in an email to the AP.
There was no official confirmation. Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told Reuters: "I'm not aware of any attack right now."
In January this year, Israel bombed a convoy in Syria, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, according to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources in the region.
In 2007, Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear reactor site along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, an attack that embarrassed and jolted the Assad regime and led to a buildup of the Syrian air defense system.
WASHINGTON (May 3, 2013) -- Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.
American officials did not provide details on the target of the Israeli strike. But in late January, Israel carried out airstrikes against SA-17 antiaircraft weapons, which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.
Israel has been worried that chemical weapons and advanced arms might be transferred to Hezbollah from Syria, and the Israeli military has made clear that it is prepared to take action to stop such shipments.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has long had a close relationship with Hezbollah, and Syria has been a gateway for shipping Iranian weapons to the militia.
Hezbollah has sent trainers and advisers to Syria to help Mr. Assad with his war against the Syrian opposition, American officials say, and Syrian opposition officials report that Hezbollah fighters are also involved in the conflict.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined on Friday night to comment on the Israeli attack, which was first reported by CNN, saying only in a statement, "Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon."
The Israeli attack came as the Obama administration -- as part of its examination of possible responses to obtaining conclusive proof that Mr. Assad has used chemical weapons -- is considering military options with allies. Those options include attacking Syria's antiaircraft systems, military aircraft and some of its missile fleet, according to senior officials from several countries.
Those officials say that attacking the chemical stockpiles directly has been all but ruled out. "You could cause exactly the disaster you are trying to prevent," a senior Israeli military official said in an interview last week in Tel Aviv.
But attacking Mr. Assad's main delivery systems, the officials say, would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. "This wouldn't stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah," said one European official who has been involved in the conversations. "But it would limit the damage greatly."
The topic was alluded to on Thursday, when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about "the need for new options" if Mr. Assad used his chemical arsenal, the officials said. But while the military has been developing and refining options for the White House for months, the discussion appears to have taken a new turn, officials say, in the struggle to determine whether the suspected use of sarin gas near Aleppo and Damascus last month was a prelude to greater use of such weapons.
"There are a lot of options on the table, and they're generally carrying equal weight at the moment," a senior administration official said Friday. He declined to discuss the others, though Mr. Hagel talked on Thursday about arming rebel groups
So far, President Obama has been reluctant to get involved in the Syrian conflict. He has ruled out placing American forces on the ground, a stance he reiterated on Friday at a new conference in San José, Costa Rica, where he was meeting with Latin American leaders.
Mr. Obama told reporters he did not foresee a situation in which "American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria," adding that he had consulted with leaders in the Mideast who agree.
When asked in recent days whether recent evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria crossed the "red line" he set in August, Mr. Obama described questions he would need to have answered -- including when and how chemical weapons were used -- before he would take action. Even then, he made clear, he may choose something well short of military action.
By Israeli estimates, Syria has 15 to 20 major chemical weapons sites, many near airfields that would make transport by plane relatively easy. Military planners say they would want to avoid hitting the chemicals for fear of creating toxic sites that could injure or kill civilians.
Ideally, one American commander said, the stockpiles would be surrounded, protected and then incinerated, much as the United States has done with its chemical arsenal. But that takes years, and as one official said, "We don't have years, and we can't keep troops there."
That is why attacking the delivery systems seems like the next best option to many in the administration. Israel was believed to be behind an attack on some Syrian missiles in February as they were about to be transported, presumably to Hezbollah.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers that a Hezbollah missile attack, using chemical weapons, was one of his chief concerns.
If Mr. Obama and his allies proceeded with an attack on air defenses, missiles and the Syrian Air Force, they would most likely use Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean and fighter jets that might be able to fire missiles without entering Syrian airspace. But it is unclear how effective those would be.
Mr. Obama has always made clear that any action should be taken with allies and neighbors. But NATO has been reluctant, and Russia, which keeps a naval base in Syria, has been opposed. Israeli officials have said that they do not want to go into Syria, fearing that any Israeli attack would fuel Mr. Assad's argument that the civil war in his country is the result of foreign provocations.
Some Israeli officials have argued that the Arab League should be in the vanguard of any attack, but it has shown little interest in direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict.
That has left the same trio that led the attack on Libya in 2011: the United States, Britain and France. There has been constant discussion among their militaries about "options of every kind," one official involved in the talks said this week. "Clearly, an airstrike would be much more complex than in Libya," the official said, noting that most of the targets there were in the desert.
The deliberations on how to respond militarily to any confirmed use of chemical weapons was taking place against the backdrop of some of the most intense conventional fighting in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead.
Opposition activists and fighters in Syria accused Mr. Assad's military of carrying out attacks for the second straight day on the Mediterranean seaport of Baniyas and the village of Bayda, where dozens of civilians, including children, were found dead Thursday, some stabbed and burned. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main anti-Assad political group, said in a statement that the attacks constituted another war crime.
Syria's official SANA news agency said nothing about civilian killings in Baniyas or Bayda in its dispatches on the fighting, asserting that its forces had "destroyed a number of terrorists' dens and gatherings in several areas, killing and injuring many terrorists." It also said insurgents had lobbed mortar shells at the Damascus airport.
Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from Paris; Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; Rick Gladstone from New York; and Michael D. Shear from San Jose, Costa Rica.
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