Israeli Officials Confirm IAF Strike Targeting Missiles Headed for Hezbollah

Officials say shipment not of chemical arms, but of 'game changing' weapons from Syria; Secret cabinet meeting reportedly approved strike Thursday night.

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Israeli officials confirmed Saturday that the Israeli Air Force carried out a strike against Syria that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles.

The officials said the shipment was not of chemical arms, but of "game changing" weapons bound for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. They say the airstrike was early Friday. They did not say where it took place.

They spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a secret military issue.

The target of Friday's raid was not a Syrian chemical weapons facility, a regional security source earlier told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

A U.S. official, who also declined to be identified, had told Reuters on Friday the target was apparently a building.

The attack took place on Friday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet approved it in a secret meeting on Thursday night, a security source in the region told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that Israel would be prepared to take military action if chemical weapons or other arms were to reach Hezbollah.

CNN quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Israel most likely conducted the strike "in the Thursday-Friday time frame" and its jets did not enter Syrian air space.

The Israeli air force has so-called "standoff" bombs that coast dozens of kilometers (miles) across ground to their targets once fired. That could, in theory, allow Israel to attack Syria from its own turf or from neighboring Lebanon.

The CNN report said that during the time frame of the attack, the United States had collected information showing Israeli warplanes overflying Lebanon.

Bashar Ja'afari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told Reuters: "I'm not aware of any attack right now."

A Syrian rebel commander told Reuters on Saturday that the Israeli strike targeted a convoy of missiles being sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but could not confirm the location. Qassim Saadedine, a defected colonel, spoke to Reuters by telephone from his base on the Turkish-Syrian border.

In January this year, Israel bombed a convoy in Syria, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, according to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources in the region.

Israel has not formally confirmed carrying out that strike.

Hezbollah fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

Israeli concerns have risen since Islamist fighters linked to Al-Qaida assumed a prominent role in the armed insurrection against Assad. Israelis believe one in 10 of the rebels is a jihadi who might turn his gun on them once Assad is gone. They also worry that Hezbollah guerrillas allied to Assad could obtain his chemical arsenal and other advanced weaponry.

Israeli Air Force soldiers.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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