Israel attack in Syria hit multiple targets including chemical weapons facility

Time:
Israeli warplanes struck several targets inside Syria overnight Tuesday, including a biological weapons research center that was reportedly flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting to topple the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad, Western intelligence officials tell TIME.

So far only two airstrikes have been publicly reported, amid a flurry of conflicting initial reports. Syria officially complained of the destruction of the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Jamarya northwest of Damascus. And a variety of news organizations reported that Israeli jets hit a convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft defense systems toward Lebanon’s Bakaa Valley, presumably for delivery to Hizballah, the militant Shi’ite group closely allied with the Assad regime. If they had been deployed, those SA-17 ground-to-air missiles would intimidated Israeli pilots who now operate over Lebanese airspace with impunity, forcing them to higher altitudes and other operational precautions.

A Western intelligence official indicated to TIME that at least one to two additional targets were hit the same night, without offering details. Officials also said that Israel had a “green light” from Washington to launch yet more such strikes.

Hizballah is not Israel’s only concern – or perhaps even the most worrying. Details of the Israeli strikes make clear the risk posed by fundamentalist militants sprinkled among the variegated rebel forces fighting to depose Assad. The jihadists are overwhelmingly home-grown Sunni militants but also include foreigners drawn to the fight from across the Muslim world. Loosely organized into several fighting groups, some fighters embrace the almost nihilist ideology associated with al-Qaeda. But jihadist groups are less vulnerable to the same levers that have proved effective against Syria and other states – such as threats to its territory — or even the frank interests of an organization like Hizballah, which as a political party plays a major role in Lebanon’s government.

“If we succeeded all these years to deter the Syrians and all the other surrounding countries that possess weapons of mass destruction [from making] use of it, it’s because we knew how to deliver the message, that the price would be very high,” Amnon Sofrin, a retired brigadier and former senior Mossad official, told reporters this week. “What kind of threat can you put in the face of a terror organization?”

In other words, it may be easier to attack the problem from the other side — simply destroy the weapons you’re afraid they’ll get their hands on. Among the buildings leveled at the military complex at Jamarya, outside Damascus, were warehouses stocked with equipment necessary for the deployment of chemical and biological weapons, relatively complicated systems typically manned by specially trained forces. The lab facilities dedicated to biological warfare were of special concern, given both the damage that can be done by even small amounts of biological agents, and the interest expressed in such weapons by Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. No specific armed force was identified as threatening the compound. Intelligence officials said the concern was unconventional weapons “dripping” into control of extremists in the relative chaos of the rebel side. 
One Western intelligence official told TIME the U.S. military was poised to carry out similar airstrikes around Aleppo if rebels threaten to take sites associated with weapons of mass destruction in that region.
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The US does not have the forces in the region to make such a strike on an quick response bases needed to stop terrorist from getting the weapons.  We saw how difficult it was to even defend our people in Libya because of the cuts in military operations by the Obama administration.   The Israelis were wise to move preemptively to destroy the weapons threat.

Earlier reports indicate that as many as 3000 Iranian guard troops were around one of the facilities hit by the strikes.  They may have been trying to guard the weapons from insurgents and were not prepared for the Israeli strike.  Iran is losing clout in the region with its ineffective assistance it has offered to Syria.  They would be wise to get out now before it becomes a rout.  Wisdom is not often attributed to Iran's guard forces.

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