Israeli forces have attacked a convoy on the Syrian-Lebanese
border, sources told Reuters, after Israelis warned their
Lebanese enemy Hezbollah against using chaos in Syria to
acquire anti-aircraft missiles or chemical weapons.
"The target was a truck loaded with weapons, heading from
Syria to Lebanon," said one Western diplomat, adding that the
consignment seemed unlikely to have included chemical
A source among rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad said an air strike around dawn (local time) blasted
a convoy on a mountain track about 5 kilometres (3 miles)
south of where the main Damascus-Beirut highway crosses the
border. Its load probably included high-tech anti-aircraft
and anti-tank missiles.
"It attacked trucks carrying sophisticated weapons from the
regime to Hezbollah," the source said, adding that it took
place inside Syria, though the border is poorly defined in
A security official in the region also placed the attack on
the Syrian side. A Lebanese security official denied any
strike in Lebanon. It was not clear whether special forces
The Israeli government declined comment on the issue.
Such a strike would fit its existing policy of pre-emptive
covert and overt action to curb Iranian-backed Hezbollah and
does not necessarily indicate a major escalation of the war
in Syria. It does, however, indicate how the erosion of
Assad's family rule after 42 years is seen by Israel as
posing a threat.
Some analysts suggested Hezbollah was moving its own arms
caches from stores in Syria, fearing rebels would overrun
Though Israel this week echoed concerns in the United States
about Syrian chemical weapons, officials say a more immediate
worry is that the civil war could see weapons that are
capable of denting its massive superiority in airpower and
tanks from reaching Hezbollah; the group fought Israel in
2006 and remains a more pressing threat than its Syrian and
Wednesday's strike could have been a rapid response to an
opportunity. But a stream of Israeli comment on Syria in
recent days was a reminder of a standing policy of
pre-emptive strikes and may have been intended to limit
surprise in world capitals.
The head of the Israeli air force said only hours before the
strike that his corps, which has an array of the latest jet
bombers, attack helicopters and unmanned drones at its
disposal, was involved in a covert "campaign between wars".
"This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year," Major-General Amir
Eshel told a conference on Tuesday. "We are taking action to
reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in
which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen."
JETS OVER LEBANON
In Israel, where media operate under military censorship,
broadcasters immediately relayed international reports of the
strike. Channel Two television quoted what it called foreign
sources saying the convoy was carrying anti-aircraft
In Lebanon, the army reported a heavy presence of Israeli
jets over its territory throughout the night, following
several days of increased incursions into Lebanese airspace.
Israeli jets routinely fly and there have been unconfirmed
reports in previous years of air strikes on Hezbollah arms
An Israeli attack inside Syria could be diplomatically
provocative, particularly since Assad's Iranian ally said on
Saturday that it would view such a strike as an attack on
itself. Israel views Iran as its principal enemy and is
engaged in a bitter confrontation over Tehran's nuclear
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set for
a new term after an election earlier this month, told his
cabinet that both developments in Iran and turmoil in Arab
states, notably Syria and Egypt, meant Israel must be strong.
"In the east, north and south, everything is in ferment, and
we must be prepared, strong and determined in the face of all
possible developments," he said.
The Israeli military confirmed this week that it had lately
deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome rocket-interceptor
system to around the northern city of Haifa, which came under
heavy Hezbollah missile fire during a brief war in 2006.
Israel's refusal to comment on Wednesday is usual in such
cases; it has, for example, never admitted a 2007 air strike
on a suspected Syrian nuclear site despite U.S. confirmation
By not confirming that raid, Israel may have ensured that
Assad did not feel obliged to retaliate. For 40 years, Syria
has offered little but bellicose words against Israel. A
failing Assad administration, some Israelis fear, might be
tempted into more action, while Syria's Islamist rebels are
also hostile to Israel and could present a threat if they
seize heavier weapons.
Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said on Sunday that any
sign that the Syrian army's grip on its presumed chemical
weapons stocks was slipping could trigger Israeli
But Israeli sources said on Tuesday that Syria's advanced
conventional weapons, much of it Russian-built hardware able
to destroy Israeli planes and tanks, would represent as much
of a threat to Israel as chemical arms in the wrong hands.
Interviewed on Wednesday, Shalom would not be drawn on
whether Israeli forces had been in action in the north,
instead describing the country as part of an international
coalition seeking to stop spillover from Syria's two-year-old
Recalling that President Barack Obama had warned Assad of
U.S. action if his forces use chemical weapons, Shalom told
Israel Radio: "The world, led by President Obama, who has
said this more than once, is taking all possibilities into
"Any development ... in a negative direction would be
something that needs stopping and prevention."
During the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israeli aircraft faced little
threat, though its navy was taken aback when a missile hit a
ship. Israeli tanks suffered losses to rockets, and
commanders are concerned Hezbollah may get better weaponry.
In what might have been a sign of seeking to reassure major
powers, Israeli media reported this week that the country's
national security adviser was despatched to Russia and
military intelligence chief to the United States for
Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
in London saw any strike on Wednesday as intended to deliver
a signal rather than heralding a major escalation from
"I think the Israelis are sending a message not just to
Hezbollah, but also to Assad's forces, that they have no wish
to get dragged in, but chemical weapons and certain types of
missiles are a red line for them, and that regime forces
ought to signal, in turn, to Hezbollah that they should
proceed with caution," he said.
Worries about Syria and Hezbollah have sent Israelis lining
up for government-issued gas masks. According to the Israel
post office, which is handling distribution of the kits,
demand roughly trebled this week.
"It looks like every kind of discourse on this or that
security matter contributes to public vigilance," its deputy
director Haim Azaki told Israel's Army Radio. "We have really
seen a very significant jump in demand."