A mysterious explosion that rocked Syria’s embattled port city of Lakatia on July 5 has generated a storm of reports pointing the finger at Israel. If true, it would mark the fourth such strike of its kind this year. In January, Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian chemical and biological weapons research facility as well as a Syrian military convoy transporting sophisticated SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah. And in May, the Israelis launched two additional strikes that resulted in the destruction of long-range, Iranian-made surface-to-surface Fateh-110 missiles (or possibly the Syrian variant, the M-600), which were slated to be delivered to Hezbollah.
According to reports, The Israelis targeted a facility that stored some fifty advanced Russian Yakhont P-800 anti-ship cruise missiles. In addition to posing a threat to Israeli shipping lanes, the missiles could have also been deployed against Israeli offshore gas drilling platforms. The recently discovered Tamar, Leviathan and Tanin gas fields off Israel’s coastline has instantly transformed the once energy-starved Jewish State into a major energy player. Lebanon, at Hezbollah’s instigation, has challenged Israel’s superior maritime claims, and the possibility of the Yakhont falling into the hands of Hezbollah represents a nightmare scenario for regional stability. The missiles also pose a threat to Western ships seeking to resupply Syrian rebels or trying to enforce arms interdiction.
The only regional player capable of executing such a complex, precision operation is Israel and the Israelis have repeatedly stated that they would never tolerate the transfer of game-changing weaponry to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups. The Yakhont missile, with its long range, sophisticated guidance system, versatility and large warhead, clearly represents such a game-changing weapon.
RT, citing “reliable sources,” reported that the Israelis struck from a secret military base in Turkey, but such a scenario is highly unlikely and logistically unnecessary. Israel’s three previous strikes did not utilize Turkish resources and a 2007 Israeli strike against a Syrian nuclear facility near the northern Syrian provincial city of Deir el-Zor was similarly devoid of any willing Turkish participation. Moreover, despite Israeli efforts to soothe relations, Turkey’s Islamist leaders, who have accused Jews of fomenting the Gezi Park demonstrations, have shown no interest in reciprocating the goodwill, making the RT story that much more far-flung.
More likely is the claim that the attack was carried out by fighter bombers taking off from Israeli airbases or by a Dolphin Class submarine capable of approaching Syria’s shoreline undetected and firing a variety of cruise missiles. Regardless of how the attack was carried out, both Israel and Syria are keeping mum. While Israel neither confirmed nor denied involvement, Syria went out of its way to deny any Israeli involvement. Any acknowledgement by the Syrians of Israeli involvement would back Assad into a corner and would place enormous pressure on the dictator to respond and that would be the last thing his beleaguered regime needed.
Realpolitik notwithstanding, Israel, by its daring raid, has sent a clear message to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas, that it will not sit idly by while its interests are threatened. The four known raids that Israel has carried out this year against Syria as well as the 2007 strike near Deir el-Zor and multiple strikes executed against Sudan, the latest of which occurred in October 2012, should serve as an ominous warning to Iran that its WMD facilities are potentially on Israel’s “to do” list.
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