On September 7th Israel attacked a military site linked to the production of chemical weapons, in Syrian’s Hama province. The strike, launched from Lebanese airspace, reportedly killed two Syrian army personnel and caused material damage to the facility. The Israeli military has declined to comment on the attack.
The Israelis were apparently responding to reports that Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah asked the Syrian military to hand over the facility to the Iranian-backed terrorist group when he visited Damascus last week.
Al-Talai Scientific Studies and Research Center is known for research and development of Syrian chemical weapons and short to long-range missile systems. The site was also suspected of being used for Iranian missile production.
The location of the facility near the town of Masyaf is significant, because it is 30 miles away from a Russian air base. Russian presence in Syria has played a large role in the civil war for military, intelligence and strategic aid to the Syrian government.
Russia and Israel have kept communication channels open regarding activity in Syria. The recent airstrike makes clear that Israel will not allow a Russian presence to deter necessary action.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, Israel has conducted multiple strikes against the Assad regime and Hezbollah targets, however, this strike was the first time that Israel targeted a formal Syrian facility.
The northern border in Israel remains the most volatile. The movement of Hezbollah closer to the northern Israeli border, strengthening ties with Iran, and increasing their weapon stockpile and production capability are some of Israel’s “red lines” to act against Hezbollah. Israel has no interest in entering the civil war in Syria, however, this specific strike is a signal from Israel to Syria that they will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to continue to build their capabilities.
Weapons being constructed at this research facility may have been intended for transfer to the terror organization, as part of an Iranian effort to expand weapon and missile production for Hezbollah’s arsenal.
The air raid came a day after a UN probe found the Syrian government responsible for the chemical attack in April in northern Syria that killed more than 89 people and injured another 540. It was not immediately clear if the facility struck Thursday was used for the production or storage of chemical weapons that were fired in April.
Iran has backed the Lebanese terrorist organization, Hezbollah, whose main focus against Israel has shifted in recent years due the Iranian-led intervention in Syrian civil war. Hezbollah is fighting on the ground to combat rebels such as the Islamic Front in the southern border with Assad’s regime.
In 2006 Hezbollah and Israel fought a brief armed conflict, in which 55 people died and there were around 1,400 injuries, however, a new conflict between them could be much larger scale.
Hezbollah, with Iranian support, has been building up weaponry in the case of future Hezbollah/Israeli conflict. In July of 2017 a factory in northern Lebanon was being constructed to manufacture Fateh 110 medium-range missiles, which can reach most of Israel and carries a 500 kilogram warhead. A second factory is being built on Lebanon’s southern coast. One reason for the new construction is that Israel has successfully interdicted a number of shipments of weapons from Syria. Hezbollah is estimated to possess around 100,000 rockets and missiles mostly provided through Iranian funds.
Hezbollah continues to violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which prohibits the smuggling of arms and the construction of weapons. UN peacekeepers are at the border to prevent moving personnel, and weapons near the border of northern Israel, however, the UN has taken no action to stop Hezbollah. Some of these violations if progressed could lead to border conflict.
Another contributor to consider is Russia. In 2006 Russia was not a presence during the 2006 conflict, but a future conflict on the northern border of Israel it could spill over into Syria. Hezbollah and Russia are strategic allies, who have provided the terror group with weapons and intelligence.
Although the possibility of regional conflict between Hezbollah and Israel may be heightened after the strike, it is not likely absent a Hezbollah attack on Israeli civilians.