Officials: SSRC facility was not primary target of Israeli strikes in Syria
US officials increasingly believe that Israel's primary target in last week's raid was a convoy of antiaircraft weapons. The military research facility in Jamraya, which the Syrian regime said was the target, appears to have been a secondary target, at best.
A senior US military official recently told the New York Times that the Scientific Studies and Research Center (Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques) was damaged as a result of the "the bombs which targeted the vehicles" carrying the antiaircraft weapons, and from "the secondary explosions."
The Washington Post similarly quoted a senior US official as saying that "[t]he main target was a shipment of weapons in a convoy, potentially headed to the wrong kinds of people." Like the New York Times, the Washington Post reported that US officials believe the damage to the SSRC facility was caused by "secondary explosions from munitions in the convoy."
These two reports provide additional confirmation that the antiaircraft missiles were close to the SSRC facility in Jamraya when struck. However, they provide no corroboration for a recent TIME report that said Western intelligence officials believe "at least one to two additional targets" were also struck.
On Feb. 1, a US official told Agence France Presse that Israel had struck "surface-to-air missiles on vehicles" as well as an "adjacent" military complex "on the outskirts of Damascus" believed to be "housing" chemical agents. Similarly, McClatchy reported, based on comments from unnamed Israeli intelligence officials, that the antiaircraft missiles "were on a military base" in Jamraya when they were struck. Both reports, as well as the new reports from the New York Times and Washington Post, appear to confirm a Jan. 30 report in the Wall Street Journal that suggested the antiaircraft missiles "may have been close to a military facility" when hit.
The new reports may also explain why the footage purporting to show the damage caused by Israel's airstrikes, aired by Syrian state television on Feb. 2, showed "extremely limited" damage to the SSRC facility. As the Washington Post noted, "the video contained no evidence of a crater or the type of damage that would have been expected from a direct bombing."
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."
While Israel has not taken official responsibility for the strikes, on Feb. 3 Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference in Munich 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."
On the same day, Syria's Bashar al Assad thanked Iran for its recent pledge of support and said that "Syria is capable of confronting current challenges and repelling any aggression targeting the Syrian people."