On Jan. 30, Israeli fighter-bombers attacked and destroyed a Syrian military convoy near the Lebanese border, a bold move that stoked fears of “spillover” regional conflict stemming from Syria’s ongoing civil war. U.S. authorities speaking under the condition of anonymity confirmed the strike to reporters later that day, although the Israeli government would not provide an official confirmation or denial. The convoy was believed to be carrying a shipment of high-tech Buk-M2E SA-17 “Grizzly” anti-aircraft missile systems bound for the militant Lebanese faction Hezbollah, which has close ties with the Syrian and Iranian governments.
The SA-17 “Grizzly” is a high-tech Russian-designed missile system that is capable of tracking and engaging two dozen aircraft simultaneously and its acquisition by Hezbollah would have been of particular concern for Israel, which has launched airstrikes against Syria in the past, such as a 2007 bombing of a suspected nuclear research center.
Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of the Jewish state and waged a large-scale conflict with them in 2006. They are considered a highly influential force in Lebanese politics, often called a “state within a state” with their own system of hospitals, schools, utilities and media operations. Their well-equipped armed forces receive extensive support from Iran and Syria and surprised Israeli forces with their level of organization and use of advanced anti-tank missiles. One of Israel’s key advantages over Hezbollah is their air power, with their helicopters, drones and fighters operating in Lebanese airspace with impunity, and the arrival of the SA-17s would negate that uncontested superiority.
Israel has long feared that Hezbollah would attempt to obtain as many arms as possible should Syria’s besieged government collapse, including chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.
The potential spread of arms and militants from the conflict zone has caused alarm throughout the region; aside from Israel, Turkey and Iraq have had incidents involving stray artillery fire or movement of armed groups within their borders.
Syria and its allies were quick to decry the attack as an act of aggression. The Syrian state media denied that any arms transfer was taking place and insisted that the target had been an unnamed “research facility” in the suburbs of Damascus. Iran responded with threats of retaliation, saying the airstrike would have “implications” on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Russia, a longtime geopolitical ally of Syria, released a statement accusing Israel of violating the U.N. Charter by attacking a sovereign state. Despite the increasing violence, it is not believed that these nations will attack Israel over the incident.
However, the tensions underscore widespread concerns that the conflict in Syria will lead to further instability in the Middle East in the form of terrorism and arms trafficking.
CNN has indicated that these attacks by Israel are another example of tension between Israel and other countries in the Middle East. There have already been struggles with Iran and the Israelis. This could just be another challenge Israel will have to deal with. However, it also appears to be something they are willing to take.
Information from CNN and The New York Times was used in this article