The Syrian government publicly condemned Israel for a powerful air assault on military targets near Damascus early Sunday, saying it “opened the door to all possibilities,” as fear spread throughout the region that the country’s civil war could expand beyond its borders.
The attack, which sent brightly lighted columns of smoke and ash high into the night sky above the Syrian capital, struck several critical military facilities in some of the country’s most tightly secured and strategic areas, killing dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace, a high-ranking Syrian military official said in an interview.
Israel refused to confirm the attacks, the second in three days, and Israeli analysts said it was unlikely that Israel was seeking to intervene in the Syrian conflict. They said the attacks in all likelihood expanded and continued Israel’s campaign to prevent the Syrian government from transferring weapons to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party in neighboring Lebanon that is one of Israel’s most dangerous foes.
Rebels, opposition activists and residents said the strikes hit bases of the elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that American officials have called the country’s main chemical weapons facility.
An American official said a more limited strike early Friday at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to Hezbollah.
Concerns flared about whether Hezbollah might attack Israel in retaliation, possibly drawing Lebanon into the conflict. Israel deployed two of its Iron Dome missile-defense batteries in its northern cities. Iran’s IRNA news agency said Israel could expect a “crushing” retaliation from Syria or “the resistance,” meaning Hezbollah.
Analysts said Syria, weakened by the conflict, and Hezbollah, overstretched as it commits more forces to support the Syrian government, were unlikely to act, but they cautioned that a miscalculation by either side that set off an escalation could not be ruled out. And President Bashar al-Assad could choose to mount covert attacks on Israeli targets abroad, rather than engage its military directly.
One senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he did not think that Israel was entering a war with Syria and suggested that Syria was unlikely to respond. Mr. Assad “has his own problems,” the official noted. “He doesn’t need Israel in the mess.””
– The New York Times, "Syria Blames Israel for Fiery Attacks in Damascus"