MUNICH: Israel’s defense minister strongly signaled Sunday that his country was behind an airstrike in Syria last week, telling a high profile security conference that Israeli threats to take pre-emptive action against its enemies are not empty. “We mean it,” Ehud Barak declared.
Israel has not officially confirmed its planes attacked a site near Damascus, targeting ground-to-air missiles apparently heading for Lebanon, but its intentions have been beyond dispute. During the 22 months of civil war in Syria, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that high-end weapons could fall into the hands of enemy Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militants.
In the battlefield city of Aleppo in northern Syria, meanwhile, at least 16 people were killed Sunday when government troops bombed a building in a rebel-held neighborhood, activists said.
In other violence in the city, the official SANA news agency said a former parliament member, his wife and two daughters were killed near the Aleppo airport. The report said “terrorists,” the term the Syrian government uses for rebels, fired at Ibrahim Azzouz’s car in the Sheik Said neighborhood, killing the family.
Rebels captured the strategic Sheik Said neighborhood southeast of Aleppo on Saturday. It was a significant blow to regime forces because the area includes the road the army has used to supply troops.
For years, Israel has been charging that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran have been arming Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006.
U.S. officials say the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Deployed in Lebanon, they could have limited Israel’s ability to gather intelligence on its enemies from the air.
Over the weekend, Syrian TV broadcast video of the Wednesday attack site for the first time, showing destroyed vehicles and a damaged building identified as a scientific research center. The U.S. officials said the airstrike hit both the building and the convoy.
Turkey, which seeks the ouster of Assad and supports the opposition that is fighting against his regime, harshly criticized Israel regarding the airstrike in Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that Israel engaged in “state terror” and he suggested that its allies have nurtured wrongdoing on the part of the Jewish state.
“Those who have from the very beginning looked in the wrong direction and who have nourished and raised Israel like a spoiled child should always expect such things from Israel,” Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying.
Erdogan, who also criticized Iran for supporting Syria, is a frequent critic of Israel, a former ally of Turkey. Relations hit a low in 2010 when Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, and nine activists on board were killed. Both sides accused each other of initiating the violence.
In his comments Sunday in Munich, Barak came close to confirming that his country was behind the airstrike.
“I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago,” Barak told the gathering of top diplomats and defense officials from around the world.
Then he added, “I keep telling frankly that we said — and that’s proof when we said something we mean it — we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”