Tensions between Israel and Hizbullah Increase
Iran is blaming Israel for an attack on an arms convoy in Syria, reportedly carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hizbullah. Iran’s foreign minister threatened revenge and said the attack was “clearly coordinated with the West.”
“The attack reveals the cooperation between the rebels (trying to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad) and the ‘Zionist regime,’ Ali Akhbar Salehi said.
Salehi’s deputy warned that “the Israeli bombing in Syria will have grave consequences in Tel Aviv,” reported Iranian television.
Israel has not commented publicly on the strike, although US officials told The New York Times that Israel has informed Washington of its intentions to attack. Syria said the strike hit a Syrian research facility and killed two people.
The Addiyar daily newspaper, published in Lebanon, reported that the militaries of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have gone on heightened alert. The newspaper, which is seen as pro-Syrian, also said that large numbers of Syrian forces have deployed on the border with Israel.
Hizbullah condemned the Israeli attack, which it said targeted a Syrian research center.
“Hizbullah expresses its full solidarity with Syria’s leadership, army and people,” it said in a statement.
Tensions are running high between Israel and Hizbullah in south Lebanon. Analysts say that it is certainly likely that Israel is behind the attack.
“Is it surprising that Israel has been keeping a very, very close eye on what’s been going on in Syria? I’m not surprised at all,” Francis Tusa, the editor of
Defense Analysis, told The Media Line. “Hizbullah has thousands and thousands of artillery rockets and were they in a position to launch all of them it could cause significant damage to Israel. Hizbullah potentially has enough weapons to swamp the Iron Dome system.”
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The Iron Dome missile and rocket interception system proved successful during the recent confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in November, shooting down almost all of the rockets aimed at Israeli population centers. But Hizbullah is believed to have much longer-range rockets that can cover much of Israel.
Other analysts say that acquiring the SA-17 would give Hizbullah a distinct edge.
“These anti-aircraft missiles are far more sophisticated than the earlier SA missiles,” Yiftah Shapir, an expert on weapons systems at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) think tank in Tel Aviv told The Media Line. “It would really compromise Israel’s ability to operate in Lebanese airspace.”
Shapir also believes that the transfer of weapons was coordinated between Syria and Hizbullah, which has consistently supported Assad’s regime. Israel is especially concerned about the fate of Syria’s large stocks of chemical weapons if the Assad regime falls.
That would also be troubling for Hizbullah.
“The Syrian regime been clinging on for a good number of months and its obituary has been written a number of times,” Tusa said. “But if you were going to see a significant change in the Syrian regime it would mean seeing Hizbullah’s paymaster and armorer disappear. That would be a massive concern for them.”
The Syrian rebels are believed to be in control of about 75 percent of the country but Assad maintains in control of Damascus.
In Israel, there is little sense of an impending conflict with Hizbullah. Hotels near the borders with Syria and Lebanon are full as Israelis are flocking to see the snow there. But intelligence officials are clearly concerned and have not forgotten the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006 that ended with a United Nations cease-fire.
“The question of another war with Hizbullah is not if, but when,” a senior Israeli intelligence official told The Media Line. “It is only a matter of time.”