- Israel attacked chemical weapons plant in Syria, local reports claim
- What is Assad hiding in his backyard?
Syria's army said Israel targeted one of its positions in Hama province early on Thursday, which a war monitor said was a branch of the government agency accused by the U.S. of producing chemical weapons.
The alleged Israeli strike took place exactly 10 years after Israel took out Bashar Assad's nuclear reactor. The New York Times reported at the time that the nuclear reactor was modeled on one North Korea had used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel.
Israel has refused to comment on the alleged attack, but here's what we know so far:
What actually happened?
At 2:40 AM, according to reports from foreign media, Israeli war planes crossed into Syria from Lebanese airspace and hit the Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in the central Syrian city of Masyaf. The attack, which Syria attributed to Israel, reportedly killed two and caused extensive damage.
What did Israel allegedly hit in Syria?
The Syrian army general command described the target as a military facility, and said a nearby site where short-range surface-to-surface missiles were stored was also hit.
However, a war monitor said the center in Masyaf has been described by the U.S. as Syria's chemical weapons manufacturer.
Opposition forces also said the target was a weapons factory that develops arms for the Syrian regime and for Hezbollah.
Why is this special?
This is the first Israeli strike of its kind in Syria since the July cease-fire agreement in southern Syria. Also, a former Israeli military intelligence chief said the attack was "not routine" and was "an Israeli moral statement about the massacre in Syria."
Israeli officials, most recently the outgoing commander of Israel's Air Force, have in the past admitted that Israel has attacked weapons shipments bound for Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, without specifying which ones.
Has Israel acknowledged the strike?
There was no official recognition of the strike, but Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel "will do everything in order to prevent a Shi'ite corridor from Iran to Damascus." Speaking on a radio program, Lieberman refused to directly discuss the alleged strike, saying he is "not a Syria analyst."
He added Israel is ready for the event the situation on the ground in Syria changes. "We always take into account every possibility, every option in the Middle East."
Earlier Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin said in a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin that Iran might "drag the whole region into war."
Rivlin told Merkel that Iran is a subversive force, that is leading to the establishment of the Shi'ite axis in Syria and the entire Middle East, and that this constitutes a direct threat to Israel and to regional stability as a whole.
Rivlin added that "the weapons infrastructure Hezbollah is arming itself with will force the Israel to respond."
What happens now?
In the past, Syria has responded to attacks it said were conducted by Israel on its territory by launching missiles at Israel. In March, Israel Air Force planes attacked targets in Syria, and Syria responded by shooting a missile back at Israel, which was shot down by an anti-ballistic Arrow missile.
Following Thursday's incident, the Syrian army warned of the "dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region."
Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel writes that the real targets of the alleged Israeli strike are Trump and Putin: The action, he writes, signals that Netanyahu can disrupt a ceasefire in Syria if Israel's security interests are ignored.
Following the alleged strike, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi said on Thursday that Israel is "dealing with threats near and far," adding "The threats to Israel are from armed militant groups, most of them aided and funded by Iran. They are grave threats, but not existential ones."
According to Halevi, "our enemies know well the combination between precise intelligence and abilities. Iran, which wishes to establish a foothold on our border, is flooding the area with lethal arms and an ideology which is no less lethal. The IDF is working to keep the war back, and prepare for it."
At an IDF memorial event, Israel military chief Gadi Eizenkot said "the rapid change of threats and explosive security reality presents us with a complex daily challenge...we're working to strengthen our military capabilities and improve our existing deterrence. And at the same time, we are thwarting with responsibility and determination any threat that seeks to harm state security and prosperity."
Meanwhile, the Syrian Foreign Ministry filed a complaint to the United Nations Security Council and the Secretary General on Thursday.
"The Israeli aggression has become a norm," it said in the complaint, adding that Israel is trying to aid terror groups such as Nusra Front and ISIS, while the Syrian army makes advances. The Security Council's inaction in the matter, the complaint added, is "unacceptable."