In late January, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) reportedly struck targets near the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques) in Jamraya. According to reports, the IAF targeted a Syrian weapons convoy, which reportedly included Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missiles, near the facility.
The Wall Street Journal now reports that Israeli aircraft never actually entered Syrian air space when they carried out this attack.
Instead, the Israeli warplanes were flying over Lebanon when they executed what’s called a “lofting” maneuver–using a sudden burst of speed and altitude to catapult a bomb across the border to the target about 10 miles inside Syria, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. account of the Israeli operation.
Israeli officials said the decision was made to bomb from the relative safety of Lebanese airspace for diplomatic as well as security reasons. The Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
While some reports suggested that the SSRC facility itself was targeted and “flattened,” satellite imagery released on Feb. 6 revealed that the facility was relatively unscathed. The images did show a burnt road near the facility, possibly indicating the location of the Syrian weapons convoy when it was hit, however.
US officials have suggested that damage to the SSRC facility was only caused by “secondary explosions from munitions in the convoy.” On Feb. 2, Threat Matrix noted that the footage purporting to show the damage caused by Israel’s airstrikes showed “extremely limited” damage to the SSRC facility.
While Israel has not taken official responsibility for the January strike, then Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference in Munich on Feb. 3 that “I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago …. But I keep telling frankly that we said, and that is another proof that when we say something we mean it.” More recently, current Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted that Israel was behind the January strike. “We have a clear red line with the Syrian regime and that is not to allow advanced weapons to be passed on to Hezbollah and other militant groups…When they crossed a red line, we have acted,” Ya’alon said on April 22.
According to the US Department of the Treasury, the SSRC is the Syrian government’s body “responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them.” In addition, the activities of the SSRC are said to “focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons.” In September 2010, Brigadier General (Res.) Nitzan Nuriel, then the director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau at Israel’s National Security Council, said that “[t]he international community must send a signal that next time the institute [SSRC] supports terrorism, it will be demolished.”
Today’s news comes amidst unconfirmed reports among some members of the Syrian opposition that Israeli aircraft targeted a chemical weapons storage facility near Damascus over the weekend.