Israel strikes Syria as war threatens to engulf region

Locations of the two possible targets hit by Israel

Locations of the two possible targets hit by Israel

The Syrian civil war is now evolving into a regional confrontation.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Israeli fighter jets attacked targets in Syria, although by the evening the extent of the strikes were still unclear.

Two different reports emerged from within Syria. Israel had either attacked a convoy transferring advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Hizbollah, a claim denied by the Syrian authorities, or it had bombed a chemical weapons research centre on the outskirts of Damascus.

According to various accounts on the ground, it was quite possible that both attacks took place, as well as others. Israeli officials would not confirm or deny any operation. Syrian army spokesmen said that two people had been killed in the strikes.

In the past week, concerns over the possibility that advanced weaponry, especially chemical weapons, could be transferred from Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon have caused a flurry of military and diplomatic activity.

As Bashar al-Assad’s regime gradually loses control of large parts of Syria to the rebels, the chances of long-range missiles, advanced anti-aircraft rockets and — the option most worrying Israeli officials — chemical warheads, finding their way into the hands of Hizbollah are becoming more likely.

Meetings held in recent days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with defence and intelligence chiefs and visits by senior Israeli security officials to Washington and Moscow were meant to serve as a signal to the Syrians and Lebanese that Israel would take immediate military action arms were being transferred.

Israeli fighter planes and surveillance drones have been seen daily over southern Lebanon in recent days, while two batteries of the Iron Dome missile defence system were deployed near Haifa and other northern cities. Other neighbours of Syria — Turkey and Jordan — have also been preparing for a situation in which chemical weapons could be deployed.

Last updated: 1:22pm, January 31 2013