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Middle East

Israel targeted Hezbollah in Syria airstrikes

media Hezbollah and Syrian flags on military vehicles, Syria, 28 August 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

The Syrian army has said that Israeli air strikes hit one of its military facilities on Thursday.

Israeli officials have so far declined to comment, but a former head of the country's military intelligence said the site produced chemical weapons and that Israel “intends to enforce its red lines”.

Israel has carried out clandestine attacks on weapons sites in Syria before, but has so far declined to comment on this latest attack.

The Syrian army said Thursday that Israeli warplanes had hit its military post near Masyaf in the west of the country, killing two soldiers.

Rosemary Hollis, Middle East analyst at London's City University, explains that Israel's main goal is to destroy weapons that could be given to Hezbollah to use against it:

“The Israelis have been conducting strikes on a number of sites in Syria since the beginning of the civil war. Usually what they’re targeting are armed convoys on their way to Hezbollah – the Lebanese Shi’ite militia movement – which poses the greatest threat to Israel’s security and with which the Israelis have been at war on a couple of previous occasions.”

'Highest number of casualties ever'

It seems significant that Israel struck on Thursday specifically. The attack came just hours after UN war crimes investigators presented conclusive evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4th chemical weapons attack that killed 83 people, a third of them children.

The UN also gave evidence of 22 other chemical attacks by the Assad regime.

Israel is using the international community's disgust at such attacks to be able to justify their air strikes, says Rosemary Hollis.

“This particular strike looks like a bit of a departure from the pattern of Israeli attacks on weapons convoys to Hezbollah," she said.

The can also argue that they are actually doing a service to many causes who hate the spectacle of Syrians using chemical weapons against their own population.”

 Israel, though, is going beyond its usual pattern for air strikes.

This may be because Tel Aviv sees Hezbollah as more threatening than ever before thanks to its involvement in the Syrian Civil War, Yossi Mekelberg, Middle East expert at Chatham House in London said.

“Hezbollah close to the Syrian border is the number one concern for Israel because it is way more equipped than it was in 2006 (when Israel and Hezbollah last went to war). In the Israeli intelligence assessment of a future war between it and Hezbollah, Israel would suffer the highest number of casualties ever” in such a conflict," he said.

Thus, as Mekelberg says, Israel remains extremely anxious about Hezbollah's role in Syria, and one fears that more air strikes, like the one on Thursday, are likely in the foreseeable future.

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