WASHINGTON – Israel launched an airstrike into Syria, apparently targeting a suspected weapons site, U.S. officials said Friday night.
The strike occurred overnight Thursday into Friday, the officials told The Associated Press. It did not appear that a chemical weapons site was targeted, they said, and one official said the strike appeared to have hit a warehouse.
The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Israel has targeted weapons in the past that it believes are being delivered to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. Earlier this week, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said his group would assist Syrian President Bashar Assad if needed in the effort to put down a 2-year-old uprising.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Aaron Sagui would not comment Friday night specifically on the report of an Israeli strike into Syria.
“What we can say is that Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Sagui said in an email to the AP.
In 2007, Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear reactor site along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, an attack that embarrassed and jolted the Assad regime and led to a buildup of the Syrian air defense system. Russia provided the hardware for the defense systems upgrade and continues to be a reliable supplier of military equipment to the Assad regime.
Word of the new strike, first reported by CNN, came hours before President Barack Obama told reporters at a news conference in Costa Rica on Friday that he didn’t foresee a scenario in which the U.S. would send troops to Syria. More than 70,000 peoples have died and hundreds of thousands have fled the country as the Assad regime has battled rebels.
The Israeli strike also follows days of renewed concerns that Syria might be using chemical weapons against opposition forces. Obama has characterized evidence of the use of chemical weapons as a “game-changer” that would have “enormous consequences.”
While the U.S. has been providing nonlethal aide to opposition forces in Syria, even stepping up that form of support in recent days, the Obama administration has resisted calls from some American lawmakers to arm the rebels or to work to establish a no-fly zone to aid the insurgency.
On Thursday, however, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration is rethinking its opposition to providing arms to the rebels. He said it was one of several options as the U.S. consults with allies about steps to be taken to drive Assad from power. Officials in the administration who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss strategy said earlier this week that arming the opposition forces was seen as more likely than any other military option.
Obama followed Hagel’s comments by saying options will continue to be evaluated, though he did not cite providing arms specifically. Concerns that U.S. weapons could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups helping the Syrian opposition or other extremists, including Hezbollah, have stood in the way of that change in strategy.
“We want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we’re doing is actually helpful to the situation as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex,” Obama said Thursday at a news conference in Mexico.