Syrian and Iranian officials said alleged Israeli airstrikes near Damascus prove that Tel Aviv is in league with extremist groups battling the Syrian government, while Russia demanded that the incidents be investigated.
Israeli aircraft apparently carried out two attacks near the Syrian capital on Sunday, hitting Damascus International Airport — which is used for civilian and military purposes — and targets close to the Western town of al-Dimas by the Lebanese border. There were no reported casualties, although Syrian officials said "material damage" was caused. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of local sources, reported that the airport strikes had targeted a warehouse containing weapons in the military part of the facility and that military zones had also been hit in al-Dimas.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the attacks during a joint news conference in Tehran today, saying they put Israel "in the same trench" as extremist militants operating in Syria, the Associated Press reported.
Moallem added that Israel was trying to make up for recent gains that Syrian government troops had made against opposition groups.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemned the attacks in letters to the UN Secretary General and Chairman of the UN Security Council carried by the state-run SANA news agency. "Israel has committed a heinous crime against the sovereignty of Syria," the letters said, going on to accuse the Israeli government of "explicit involvement" in supporting "armed terrorist groups" in the country, including al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich demanded that the incident be investigated in a statement released on Monday that described such attacks as "unacceptable in international relations." Russia and Iran are key allies to the Syrian government, which is widely opposed by both Western and Arab countries.
Israel has not commented directly on the strikes, although Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz hinted at involvement today. "We have a very potent defense policy that is oriented toward safeguarding the country and wherever possible preventing the upgrading of weaponry that gives terrorist organizations game-changers or unusually sophisticated means of attack," he said in remarks to Israel Radio, reported by AP, that apparently referred to Lebanese militant group and longtime foe Hezbollah. Hezbollah is fighting in Syria alongside Syrian government forces.
Israel has bombed several Syrian targets since the conflict began in early 2011. These have mostly been focused on advanced weapons, such as missiles, thought to be bound for Hezbollah, which Israel has said the militants must not be allowed to have. In May 2013 strikes targeted Iranian-made missiles thought to be intended for the group. The most recent Israeli strike took place in March this year and hit military positions in Quneitra
There is no evidence that Israel is supporting Jabhat al Nusra or other extremist groups in Syria. However, Israeli troops have interacted with Syrian rebels, and allowed them to cross the border into the Golan Heights, according to both a recent UN report and a VICE News team, which visited the area in November.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck
Image via Wikipedia