WASHINGTON/MUNICH – Israel’s airstrike on Syria last week may have damaged the country’s main research center on biological and chemical weapons, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Wednesday’s attack targeted surface-to-air missiles and an adjacent military complex believed to house chemical agents, a U.S. official said.
A senior U.S. military official told The Times that any damage to the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center was likely “due to the bombs which targeted the vehicles” carrying the antiaircraft weapons and to “the secondary explosions from the missiles.”
The center, located north of Damascus, has been hit by U.S. and other Western sanctions for more than a decade because of its suspected links to chemical and biological weapons engineering.
The Israelis had a “small strike package,” the official told The Times. He was referring to the likelihood of Israel having deployed relatively few fighter aircraft to get past Syria’s air defenses. “They clearly went after the air defense weapons on the transport trucks,” he added.
Earlier, Israel gave its first indirect confirmation of the attack when Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the strike was “another proof that when we say something, we mean it.”
He told the Munich Security Conference that Israel was loath to see advanced weapons fall into the hands of the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon by streaming across neighboring Syria’s border after President Bashar Assad falls.
Damascus has threatened to retaliate, further fueling fears of a regional spillover of the country’s 22-month conflict, which the U.N. says has already left more than 60,000 people dead.
Assad accused Israel of seeking to “destabilize” Syria, the SANA state news agency reported. The raid “unmasked the true role Israel is playing, in collaboration with foreign enemy forces and their agents on Syrian soil,” he told Saeed Jalili, who heads Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Amid the insecurity, Israeli security sources said the Jewish state has plans for a buffer zone inside the Syrian border to prevent radical groups from approaching its territory after Assad is toppled as president of Syria.