Syria Warns Israel of ‘Surprise’ Retaliation
By Al Jazeera
Syria has threatened to retaliate for an Israeli air attack while its ally Iran says there will be repercussions for Israel over the attack.
Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, said in Damascus on Thursday that Syria “has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation”.
Ali said he could not predict when Syria would retaliate. It was up to the relevant authorities to prepare the retaliation and choose the time and place, he told Al Ahad, a website of Hezbollah, the Lebanese group is closely allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran.
It is unclear what the exact nature of the target of Wednesday’s Israeli air raids was.
The Syrian military has denied the existence of any weapons shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit by the Israeli fighter jets.
Syrian state media said that the attacks targeted a military research centre near the Syrian capital, while regional security sources told the Reuters and AP news agencies that the target was a convoy of lorries allegedly carrying anti-aircraft missiles for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In Iran, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, as saying the raid on Syria will have significant implications for Israel.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, condemned the Israeli raid on state television, calling it a clear violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Iran is Syria’s strongest ally in the Middle East, and has provided Assad’s government with military and political backing for years.
Lodged official complaint
Later on Thursday, Syria complained to the UN over the Israeli strike.
Although Israel and Syria are technically still at war, the ministry’s official complaint evoked a 1974 disengagement agreement between the neighbours, state news agency SANA said.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned Iqbal Singha, commander of the UN Observer Disengagement Observer Force… and informed him of an official protest over the Israeli violation of the disengagement agreement of 1974,” the ministry said.
The ministry said Israel “and the states that protect it at the UN Security Council” are responsible for the air strike, and “affirms Syria’s right to defend itself and its territory and sovereignty”.
The ministry called on “all the competent UN bodies to take the necessary steps given this grave Israeli violation, and to guarantee that it will not happen again.”
The ministry denounced “the failure of the Security Council to take responsibility to prevent this grave Israeli attack, which poses serious threats to stability in the Middle East and security in the world”.
In a statement, Hezbollah condemned the attack as “barbaric aggression”, saying it “expresses full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people.”
Hezbollah did not mention any convoy but said the raid aimed to prevent Arab and Muslim forces from developing their military capabilities.
Russia, Syria’s strongest international ally, said the Israeli raid appeared to be an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.
It said it is taking “urgent measures to clarify the situation in all its details”.
“If this information is confirmed, we have a case of unprovoked attacks on targets in the territory of a sovereign state, which grossly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Whatever the motives, this is not justified.”
Late on Wednesday evening, the Syrian army confirmed that Israeli jets crossed into Syria below radar level at dawn and carried out raids against military targets.
“Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research centre in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defence,” the army’s general command said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
The attack came “after terrorist groups made several failed attempts in the past months to take control of the site”, the statement added, using the term the Assad’s government uses for rebel fighters.
The jets entered the Syrian airspace via Mount Hermon, or Jabal el-Sheikh in Arabic, the Syrian army said.
“They … carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building,” Syrian state television quoted the military as saying.
The army added that two site workers were killed in the strike, and five others wounded.
News agencies quoted US and regional officials as saying that Israel had conducted an air raid inside Syria near the border with Lebanon, hitting a convoy of lorries.
The regional officials said Israel had been planning in the days leading up to the air raid to hit a shipment of weapons bound for Hezbollah.
They said the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which would be strategically “game-changing” in the hands of Hezbollah.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the strike.
Israeli and US fears
In Israel, a parliamentarian close to Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister, stopped short of confirming involvement in the attack. But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future.
Among Israeli security officials’ chief fears is that Hezbollah could get Syrian chemical arms and SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.
If that were to happen, it would change the balance of power in the region and greatly hinder Israel’s ability to conduct air violations in Lebanon.
The military in Lebanon, which shares borders with both Israel and Syria, said on Wednesday that Israeli fighter jets had sharply increased their activity over the country in the past week, including at least 12 sorties in less than 24 hours in the south.
Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace occur on a daily basis and Lebanese authorities routinely lodge complaints at the UN against the flights.