Did Israel strike in Syria again?
On July 5, a naval base belonging to the Syrian regime was reportedly struck near the port city of Latakia. Contradictory reports quickly emerged as some suggested that the explosion at the base was the result of strikes by opposition rockets, while others said it was caused by missiles from foreign aircraft.
Hezbollah's Al Manar claimed that the explosions were the result of stray mortars from local clashes, according to Ynet News. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was unclear who caused the explosions, according to Agence France Presse. A Syrian official purportedly told state media that al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists using European weaponry conducted the attack.
A source told the pro-Assad outlet Al Akhbar that three missiles were fired at the base, which caused the explosions and led to the death of at least one soldier. The report further alleged that the rockets may have been fired near the coast, if not from the sea itself.
Reuters today quoted Qassem Saadeddine, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, as saying foreign elements were behind the attack on Latakia. "This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean," Saadeddine stated. Saadeddine also said that the attack targeted "newly supplied Yakhont missiles," according to Reuters.
On May 16, the New York Times reported that Russia had provided Syria with newer versions of the Yakhont "outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective." Syria received its first supply of Yakhont missiles from Russia in 2011, the Times stated. The day before the Times report on the Yakhont missiles, the paper quoted an Israeli official as saying that Israel was prepared to carry out additional strikes in Syria if necessary.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon today denied that Israel was responsible for the incident in Latakia, according to Ynet News. "We haven't intervened in the Syrian bloodshed in a long time .... We've drawn our red lines and we keep to them," he said.
Since the start of the uprising against Bashar al Assad in Syria, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has carried out at least three strikes in Syria.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is currently in Moscow, where she is meeting with Russian officials about their plans to provide Syria with S-300 missile defense systems. Defense Minister Ya'alon has previously said that Israel "will know what to do" if the missile defense system is given to Syria.
In late January, the 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 weapons convoy, which included Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missiles, near the facility.
While some reports of the January strike suggested that the SSRC facility itself was targeted and "flattened," satellite imagery revealed that the facility, known for its ties to Syria's chemical weapons program, 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.
In early May, the IAF carried out two separate strikes in Syria. The first strike on May 3 reportedly targeted Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles from Iran, which were located at Damascus International Airport. The second strike on May 5 reportedly retargeted the SSRC facility that was struck in January.
Although Israeli officials have not taken official responsibility for any the alleged strikes, they have repeatedly warned that they are prepared to act in Syria to prevent Hezbollah and other terror groups from obtaining advanced weaponry.
US officials have not yet commented on the recent incident. A couple of weeks after the May strikes, American officials reportedly apologized to Israel after leaks from "lower ranks at the Pentagon" said Israel was behind the strikes.