Israel said to attack Russian missile shipment in Syria
BEIRUT — Israeli warplanes attacked a shipment of Russian missiles inside a Syrian government stronghold, officials said Thursday, a development that threatened to add another volatile layer to regional tensions from Syria’s civil war.
An Obama administration official confirmed the Israeli airstrike overnight but provided no details. Another security official said the attack occurred late Wednesday in the Syrian port city of Latakia and that the target was Russian-made SA-125 missiles.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the attack. There was no immediate confirmation from Syria.
Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, Israel has carefully avoided taking sides, but has struck shipments of missiles in Syria at least twice this year.
The Syrian military, overstretched by the war, has not retaliated, and it was not clear whether it would choose to take action this time. President Bashar Assad may decide to again let the Israeli attack slide, particularly when his army has the upper hand on the battlefield in Syria.
Israel has repeatedly declared a series of red lines that could trigger its military intervention, including the delivery of “game-changing” weapons to the Syrian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Israel has never officially confirmed taking action inside Syria, to avoid embarrassing Assad and sparking a potential response. But foreign officials say it has done so several times when Israeli intelligence determined that sophisticated missiles were on the move.
In January, an Israeli airstrike in Syria destroyed a shipment of advanced antiaircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, according to U.S. officials. And in May, it was said to have acted again, taking out a shipment of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles at a Damascus airport.
Syrian activists and opposition groups reported strong explosions Wednesday night that appeared to come from inside an air defense facility in Latakia. They said the cause of the blasts was not known.
The revelation came as the Syrian government met a key deadline in an ambitious plan to eliminate the country’s entire chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014 to avoid international military action.
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