In an attempt to prove that its threats of retaliation for Israeli air strikes are not empty words, Syria has reportedly aimed missiles at Tel Aviv, to be used in the event of another such Israeli violation of its sovereignty.
According to the British newspaper Sunday Times, data from reconnaissance satellites reveal preparations made by the Syrian army for deployment of surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to the report at the opening of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting by reiterating, “The Israeli government acts in a responsible, determined and measured manner to ensure the State of Israel’s main interest, which is the security of its citizens.
“Our policies are to stop, as much as possible, any leaks of advanced weaponry to Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations,” Netanyahu said, citing the reason for the recent attack on a missile cache near Damascus, though there has been no specific confirmation from Israel that it was responsible.
A senior Israeli official was quoted by The New York Times late last week as saying, “If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel or tries to strike Israel through terrorist proxies, he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.”
However, not everyone takes the Syrian threats so seriously. IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai dismissed the Sunday Times report on Sunday, calling it “not credible” and “far-fetched.”
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad added a rhetorical salvo over the weekend, accusing Israel of “directly supporting terrorist groups” in Syria, referring to rebels fighting against his regime, in an interview with Argentinian newspaper Clarin, which was shared with The Observer.
“Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways. Firstly, it gives them logistical support, and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them,” The Observer quoted Assad as saying.
“For example, they attacked a radar station that is part of our anti-aircraft defenses, which can detect any plane coming from overseas, especially from Israel,” he said.
Assad denied reports that armed groups from Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had entered Syria to help his regime, but said that members of both groups had been “coming and going” long before the crisis began.
However, Reuters said that Hizbullah forces were involved in fierce fighting at Qusair near the border with Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where they attacked a Syrian rebel-held town alongside Syrian troops on Sunday.
Assad also denied claims by the rebels that his regime had used chemical weapons, and alleged that the West “lies and falsifies evidence to engineer wars.”
Netanyahu rejected Assad’s comments during a meeting of Likud ministers on Sunday, insisting that Israel is not taking sides in the Syrian civil war.
An Israeli official was quoted as saying, “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.”
In another Syria-related item, a Russian shipment of Yakhont anti-ship missiles to Syria was condemned by the United States on Friday.
Increased firepower provided by Russia has the Israelis worried. Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week but gave no public indication about whether Israel’s concerns over the Russian weaponry had been eased.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, said that the S-300 missile and the Yakhont could complicate any foreign military intervention in Syria and would likely find their way to Hizbullah.
“Yakhont is a cruise missile that can hit targets at sea and strategic targets. [It is] a supersonic missile [with] a range of 300 km, very sophisticated,” Gilad said.