US officials confirm Israeli strike on Yakhont missiles in Syria
US officials have confirmed that Israel recently carried out a strike against Yakhont missiles near Latakia, Syria on July 5. Threat Matrix had previously reported on the incident on July 9.
A series of explosions on July 5 at a critical Syrian port was the result of airstrikes by Israeli warplanes, according to multiple U.S. officials. Regional media widely reported the predawn explosions at Latakia, but no one had officially claimed responsibility.
Three U.S. officials told CNN the target of the airstrikes were Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles that Israel believes posed a threat to its naval forces. The officials declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information.
There is strong reason to believe that the Yakhont missiles targeted by Israel were those described by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in mid-May. The Journal even noted that Israel would possibly look to target the shipment "in the near future." The day before both reports, the Times 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 on July 9 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 other strikes in 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 of 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.
In the coming days and weeks it will be interesting to watch whether American officials issue an apology to their Israeli counterparts for confirming last Friday's strike, as occurred after the May strikes. In addition, it will be interesting to see if satellite images or on-the-ground video or photos emerge, as was the case with all of the previous strikes.