US officials early Saturday, July 13 named Israel as responsible for the July 5 air strikes against the big arms depot at a Syrian naval base in the Alawite port city of Latakia. Dispelling conflicting reports, three US officials asserted that Israel had conducted the air strikes for demolishing the advanced Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles stored there.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that three strategic arsenals were targeted: One consisted of weapons mostly delivered by Russian air freights in the last two months for the Syrian-Hizballah offensive to recapture Aleppo. A second contained the supersonic Yakhont anti-ship missiles (NATO codenamed SS-N-26) plus their radar systems; and the third, the Syrian army’s strategic reserve of missiles and ammunition, stored there for an emergency, such a possible forced Syrian army retreat to the Alawite region – or even Lebanon.
It is important to note that, although Moscow was perfectly aware that the advanced Russian weapons supplied to Syria were put in the hands of the Lebanese Hizballah, the consignments were not only not suspended but expanded. Moscow is therefore directly arming HIzballah with advanced weapons.
During the attack, neither Syrian radar nor that of the Russian warships cruising off the Syria coast registered any aircraft or missiles heading for the Latakia depot.
They were therefore unable to positively identify the source of the explosions.
Israel and the IDF held their silence – hoping that matters would stay that way, unlike their air strike of May 5 which destroyed Iranian arms shipments for Hizballah stored in the Damascus area, when American sources made haste to finger Israel. This time, too, after a few days’ pause, Washington again broke the story.
This step coincided with US President Barack Obama’s early Saturday phone call to Saudi King Abdullah to discuss the Syrian crisis. They may have discussed a potential Russian or Syrian reprisal for the Israeli air strike.
In their rough, acerbic encounter at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 14, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned President Vladimir Putin that if Russia sends advanced weaponry to Syria, such as S-300 anti-aircraft missiles or sophisticated radar for upgrading the Yakhont missiles, Israel would destroy them. Putin retorted that if Israel did this, Moscow would hit back.
After Israel’s air strikes over Damascus of May 5, Syrian President Bashar Assad said repeatedly, as did Hizballah and Iranian officials, that another Israeli attack on Syria would elicit an immediate Syrian reprisal.
The theme running through the Syrian and Hizballah warnings was a threat to open a new warfront against Israel from the Golan.
And so, two days after the IDF detected Hizballah movements on the Golan opposite the Israeli border, the army spokesman Monday, July 8, announced the deployment of extra Israeli forces in the divided enclave.
Tuesday, July 9, a car bomb blew up at Hizballah’s office building in the Bir al-Abd quarter of South Beirut. A next-door Shiite mosque and a technical school were also hit. At least 53 people were injured.
Hizballah did not admit that the targeted office building housed the intelligence and communications centers for its combat operations in Syria. When no organization took responsibility for the attack, Beirut and Tehran pointed the finger at Israeli intelligence as the culprit.