Details and conflicting reports are beginning to trickle out of the Middle East, after huge explosions overnight Thursday rocked a Syrian army base twenty kilometers outside the port city of Latakia. Troops loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime and opposition forces seeking its overthrow were exchanging artillery and missile fire in the area at the time the explosions occurred.
It is known that some soldiers were killed and others wounded.
Latakia is on the Mediterranean shore and is part of an Alawaite enclave. It is a stronghold of the Assad family and its closely knit echelon of top military and government officials.
The Israeli government has maintained its traditional policy of neither confirming or denying responsibility for the attack publicly.
Israeli sources also explained that Israel has no intentions of interfering in the bloody Syrian civil war, but will not allow certain “red lines” to be crossed. Jerusalem will not tolerate the transfer of long-range land missiles, sophisticated land-sea missiles and, above all, advanced anti-aircraft weapons from Syria to its Lebanese allies. Israel treats such systems as “game changers” which would several hamper its military options both in the sea and in the air over Lebanon. Such upgraded military capabilities would also threaten Israeli population centers.
Arab and international media hinted that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) may have again taken military action against Syrian assets. On Friday, opposition forces claimed that a Syrian army depot was destroyed. The website of the Free Syria Army, the backbone of the rebel groups posted an analysis speculating who could have been behind the attack. One of the explanations offered was that “enemy airplanes” were responsible, a clear reference to the IAF. The story was picked up by the BBC’s Arabic service, and was subsequently echoed by the Israeli media.
But the al-Manar television station owned by the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, which is allied with the Syriam regime, hurried to offer a different story. Under the headline, “This is what really happened in Latakia,” al-Manar’s website said that the base was struck by mortar shells fired from rebel positions. The story cited a “military source,” probably a Syrian army official. The source denied claims that the attack originated from the air or sea, and certainly was not at the hands of “enemy aircraft.”
Meanwhile on Sunday, adding to the mystery, the office of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that it is aware of the reports and studying them.
In the last seven months at least three air strikes against Syrian targets were attributed by global media outlets and Syrian sources to the IAF.
Israel has maintained an official policy of ambiguity on the attacks. Yet two defense ministers – the previous one, Ehud Barak, and the current one, Ya’alon – have given the impression in public appearances that Israel was behind at least some of the attacks.
If indeed Israel was behind the recent attack – and it is still a speculation – it may indicate a change of tactics. Not only convoys carrying weapons from Syria to Hezbollah will be attacked but also Syria warehouses.
[Photo: Bertramz / Wiki Commons]