Russia is expressing concern about an air strike by Israeli warplanes inside Syria, which targeted either a “scientific” facility outside the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, (according to Syrian reports), or a convoy of anti-aircraft missiles on its way to a Hezbollah base (according to Western reports). This development comes amid rising international fear that President Bashar Assad is about to lose control of his nation’s stockpiles of chemical and advanced weapons.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has stated that such action, if confirmed, amounts to “unprovoked attacks” against a sovereign nation, in violation of the United Nations charter.
If the reports of “unprovoked strikes” hitting a sovereign country’s territory are confirmed, this would constitute a violation of fundamental United Nations principles, the Foreign Ministry said.
Such attacks are ”unacceptable, no matter where their motivations lie,” the Foreign Ministry added.
There are fears that the Israeli strike could draw others into the Syrian conflict. Iran, Syria’s close ally, said this week that any foreign attack against Syria would be regarded as an attack on Iran.
Differing accounts of the Wednesday air strike have emerged, with Syrian authorities saying Israeli jets fired on a military research facility near Damascus, killing two people.
The conflicting reports could not be resolved or independently confirmed by early Thursday and it remains unclear whether one or two separate strikes occurred. Israel refused to comment on Wednesday.
A statement from Syria’s military command says the strike followed months of “botched attempts” to seize control of the facility by “terrorist groups” – the government’s label for rebels trying to topple President al-Assad. The Israeli pilots are said to have flown into Syria at low altitude, to evade detection.
A Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the LA Times that the air strike hit a truck convoy believed to be carrying antiaircraft weapons for Hezbollah terrorists across the border, in Lebanon. The shipment was thought to have included Russian SA-17 missiles, the official said.
These weapons in the hands of the Islamic group could weaken Israel’s regional military power and curb its ability to launch air strikes in Lebanon.
In addition to chemical weapons, Israeli officials have been particularly worried about Syria’s stockpile of SA-17 antiaircraft missiles.
“The initial speculation was about chemical weapons, but Israel is deeply concerned about Hezbollah acquiring this kind of advanced antiaircraft missile,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Center for Global Research in International Affairs in Herzliya, Israel. “It would transform Hezbollah’s game and potentially end Israel’s air superiority over Lebanon. This is entirely about Hezbollah, not about Syria.”
In March 2012, Haaretz reported that Syria had supplied Hezbollah with advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missile systems and was training operators how to use them,.
In 2007, Israel carried out an air raid on Syria’s nuclear reactor site.
The Russia Foreign Ministry also called on for peaceful dialogue without foreign influence in Syria, where over 60,000 have died according to the UN in almost two years of civil war.
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have warned that they will not tolerate any transfer of Syrian weapons to militants such as Hezbollah.
The former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, Amnon Sofin, says Israel’s greatest concern is that Syrian chemical weapons could come under control of Hezbollah terrorists dug in along the Lebanese border.
Sofin told reporters Wednesday that Hezbollah already has rockets and launchers and there are fears that such missiles could be fitted to carry chemical warheads.