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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Israeli jets strike apparent arms convoy on Syrian/Lebanese border. What's Iran up to?

From Naharnet:
Israel forces carried out a strike overnight on a weapons convoy coming from Syria in the Lebanon-Syria border area, security sources told AFP on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The Israeli air force blew up a convoy which had just crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon," one source said, without giving a precise location for the attack.

The source said the convoy was believed to be carrying weapons but did not specify what type.

A second security source, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, also confirmed to AFP that Israeli warplanes had hit a convoy allegedly carrying weapons to Lebanon but said the incident occurred just inside Syria.

"It was an armed convoy traveling towards Lebanon but it was hit on the Syrian side of the border at around 2330 GMT," the source said.
Ya Libnan/Reuters adds:
“There was definitely a hit in the border area,” one security source said. A Western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said “something has happened”, without elaborating.

An activist in Syria who works with a network of opposition groups around the country said that she had heard of a strike in southern Syria from her colleagues but could not confirm it. A strike just inside Lebanon would appear a less diplomatically explosive option for Israel to avoid provoking Syrian ally Iran.

Whether the strike took place within Syrian territory, or over the border in Lebanon, could affect any escalation from the incident. Iran, Israel’s arch-foe and one of Damascus’s few allies, said on Saturday it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself. During and since Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, there have been unconfirmed reports of Israeli strikes on convoys just after they entered Lebanon from Syria.

Israel has long made clear it claims a right to act preemptively against enemy capabilities. Alluding to this, air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel on Tuesday said his corps was involved in a covert and far-flung “campaign between wars”.

“This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year,” Eshel told an international conference. “We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen.”

He did not elaborate on any operations, but did single out the threat Israel saw from Syria’s arsenal, calling it “huge, part of it state-of-the-art, part of it unconventional”.
Earlier this week Israel moved some Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to the northern border, eliciting much speculation as to why. This might be the answer.

Lebanon's Daily Star has photos of some of the increased IAF flights over Lebanon:


Plus this photo. I'm sure the minaret in the photo is sheer coincidence, and not in the least meant to incite any excitable people to violence:


So what was in the convoy? Given that Hezbollah already has tens of thousands of medium range missiles that can hit nearly all of Israel's population, one must guess that this convoy had something even worse - either a much more powerful conventional rocket, or something a bit more, let's say, unconventional.

Iran essentially has a laboratory between Syria and Lebanon, especially now that Syria is in such disarray. Iran can afford to dabble in increased arms smuggling between Syria and Hezbollah. If the weapons get through, they are happy; if Israel intercepts them; Iran now knows a bit more about Israeli intelligence capabilities. They are only risking the lives of Syrian and Hezbollah allies, but those lives are easily worth the intelligence about Israel that could be gathered - Iran can afford to sacrifice every last Syrian and Lebanese. Iran can also use these sorts of activities to identify Israel's "red lines."

Iran literally has no downside to keep sending these weapons, of varying types, over the border. And Israel knows that as well.