Syria Accuses Israel of New Attack, Ratcheting Up Tensions

  • Israeli military has no comment on the alleged missile strike
  • Israel has vowed to keep arms from reaching militants in Syria

Syria accused Israel of attacking near Damascus for the second time in a week, raising frictions between enemies who have labored to keep spillover from the war in Syria from entangling them in their own, separate conflict.

Israel fired surface-to-surface missiles at Al-Mezzeh airport west of the Syrian capital, causing no injuries, the official SANA news agency reported, citing an unidentified military source. It said the missiles were fired from Abu Al-Nada, a mountain located in the section of the Golan Heights that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Israeli military had no comment. In a meeting with European diplomats on Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reassured Syria that his country has no intention of intervening in its civil war, but confirmed, without specifically addressing the Syrian allegations, that Israel was working to prevent arms transfers from its northern neighbor.

“We are trying to prevent the smuggling of sophisticated weapons, military hardware and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah,” he said. The Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, warred with Israel in 2006 and is now fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Reduced U.S. Role

With the U.S. reducing its role in the region, Israel increasingly sees the need to intervene in Syria as Russia’s military backing of the Syrian government emboldens Iran and Hezbollah, according to Jonathan Rynhold, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

“The U.S. has taken a step backwards and that vacuum has been filled by forces that are unfriendly to Israel, including Iran and ISIS,” said Rynhold, using an acronym for Islamic State. “That is forcing Israel to become more active because the Russians tipped the balance in Syria. While Israel doesn’t like either side, it mostly doesn’t want Iran to be strengthened.”

Israel has been accused or suspected of striking multiple targets inside Syria since violence erupted there in 2011. Syria alleged on Nov. 30 that Israeli missiles fired from Lebanese airspace hit the outskirts of Damascus. Israeli aircraft killed four Islamic State jihadists in Syria on Nov. 28 after they opened fire at Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, according to the army.

Last week, the military tweeted an image of a declassified map of alleged Hezbollah rocket- launching sites and weapons warehouses in Lebanon, calling their presence a “war crime.”

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