November 1, 2013 – Israeli Warplanes Strike Assad Base in Syria: Israeli warplanes struck a military base near the Syrian city of Latakia on Wednesday in a bid to prevent weapons transfers to the regime’s Lebanese allies Hezbollah, according to a U.S. official. Pictured above, Israeli F15 fighter jets flying over the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has launched attacks on Syrian soil a handful of times before to try to keep the Shiite militant group Hezbollah from obtaining more-sophisticated weapons systems that could erode Israel’s military edge.
Israel suspected the Syrian regime was preparing to transfer missiles or other weapons stored at the base to Hezbollah, the U.S. official said on Thursday. “They have been watching it closely.”
An Israeli army spokesman declined to comment, observing a long-standing policy of deliberate ambiguity so as not to provoke a response from Syria.
Israel has been increasingly worried that the Syrian regime is becoming overly reliant on Iran in a civil war that has spilled across borders into neighboring Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and risks becoming a wider regional conflagration.
It is concerned that Tehran has taken the lead coordinating between Syrian forces, Iranian advisers and the thousands of Hezbollah fighters aiding the regime inside Syria, said a senior Israeli defense official. The Syrian government has also remained silent.
Israel believes that Iran and Hezbollah have amassed thousands of missiles in Lebanon to serve as a forward base with which to retaliate against the Jewish state in the event of an Israeli airstrike on nuclear targets in Iran. If Hezbollah were to make use of the advanced weapons, it would limit Israel’s ability to counter the Iranian-backed militia.
Israel has repeatedly warned that, even though it isn’t taking sides in the war, it will intervene to prevent weapons transfers to Hezbollah. The country’s leaders are concerned about advanced surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-sea missiles that would make it harder to operate around Lebanon.
They are also concerned about chemical weapons and long-range missiles that could hit targets inside Israel with greater accuracy than before.
After reports of Israeli attacks earlier this year, President Bashar al-Assad pointed the finger at Israel and threatened to open a front against it along the border on the Golan Heights. He has yet to do so.
Some of the Israeli strikes earlier were conducted from Lebanese airspace. But Latakia is on the Syria’s coast, which would have allowed Israeli jets to strike from the Mediterranean Sea without entering Lebanese air space.
Israel last struck a site near Latakia in July, when warplanes targeted missile systems that could be used to target ships.
Meanwhile, in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in New York on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. would provide V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft to the Israelis earlier than expected.
Pictured above, the V-22 Osprey. The large propellers rotate forward for level flight.
The U.S. had announced that it would sell the Ospreys to Israel in April. But on Thursday Mr. Hagel said Israel’s request to purchase six of the aircraft would move to the front of the production line.
“The Israeli and American defense relationship is stronger than ever, and it will continue to strengthen,” Mr. Hagel said.
Still, defense officials said it would be two years before Israel took possession of the aircraft. Israel wants the V-22 to expand its search and rescue capabilities. The U.S. used the aircraft in Libya to rescue a downed pilot.
The Osprey is built by Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron, and the Boeing Co. (Credits – The Wall Street Journal and Getty Images).
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