The Assad regime on Thursday complained to the United Nations after an Israeli airstrike reportedly targeted a facility linked to its chemical weapons program.
The foreign ministry’s letters to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the president of the Security Council said that the predawn missile strike had hit “Syrian military positions … killing two army personnel and causing material damage to the site.”
The letters were silent on allegations of chemical weapons work at the targeted facility. The regime denies possessing or using chemical weapons, claiming to have surrendered its stockpiles for destruction under a 2013 deal brokered by Russia.
Just a day earlier, a U.N. commission of inquiry report in effect called that a lie, blaming the regime for a deadly sarin gas attack in Idlib province last April 4, and for 20 other chemical attacks since 2013.
The targeted complex was a facility of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) near the town of Masyaf in Hama province. The U.S. government has designated SSRC (also known as CERS) for work on chemical and biological weapons and missile systems – most recently imposing sanctions on 271 SSRC employees in retaliation for the April 4 sarin attack.
A Western intelligence agency told the BBC earlier this year that the Assad regime was continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of the 2013 agreement, and that an SSRC facility in Masyaf specializes “in installing chemical weapons on long-range missiles and artillery.”
In its letters to the U.N. the Syrian foreign ministry charged that “Israeli attacks have become systematic behavior to protect the terrorists from al-Nusra Front and ISIS.”
The line is in keeping with the regime’s narrative that Israel (and the U.S.) are covertly supporting terror groups in Syria – even as the regime is leading the fight against the terrorists.
“It is inconceivable that the Security Council has so far taken no action to put an end to these blatant attacks,” the letters said.
“Those who attack the Syrian army provide direct support for terrorism because the Syrian army and its allies are those who fight terrorism on behalf of the entire world.”
Israel has not publicly confirmed responsibility for the airstrike, but statements by senior political and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officials were interpreted as alluding to it.
Israel was dealing with threats “both near and far,” military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi was quoted by the Times of Israel as telling an event in Tel Aviv, while IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkott said elsewhere that the military was “working to thwart with responsibility and determination any threat that seeks to harm our security and prosperity.”
Past Israeli military intervention in Syria has focused almost entirely on Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group which in alliance with Iran and Russia is fighting to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.
Among Israel’s gravest publicly stated concerns about the civil war in Syria is that it will result in an armed Iranian presence on its border, cementing an arc of hostile Shi’ite influence stretching from Iran across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told an Israeli radio station Thursday Israel has no wish to be drawn into a conflict but would “do whatever it takes to prevent a Shi’ite corridor from Iran to Damascus.”
A former head of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, said Thursday that if the airstrike was carried out by Israel, “it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria.”
“The factory that was targeted in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians,” Yadlin said on Twitter.
He said the targeted complex was also used for the manufacture of “precision missiles which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict.”
Yadlin also said the strike sent important messages about Israel’s determination to enforce its red lines, notwithstanding the presence in Syria of Russian air defenses.
“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held talks in Sochi last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said afterwards he had made clear that Israel would act in Syria when it deemed it necessary.
“Most of the discussion dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish a foothold in Syria in the places where ISIS was defeated and is leaving,” he said. “The victory over ISIS is welcome. Iran’s entry is unwelcome, endangering us, and in my opinion, endangering the region and the world.”
Netanyahu said he had spoken to Putin “very clearly about our positions on this matter and the fact that this is unacceptable to us.”
Neither State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert nor a spokesman for Guterres had any comment Thursday on the reported Israeli airstrike.