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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Did Israel bomb Latakia last week?

The Long War Journal has a wrap-up of events:

On July 5, a naval base belonging to the Syrian regime was reportedly struck near the port city of Latakia. Contradictory reports quickly emerged as some suggested that the explosion at the base was the result of strikes by opposition rockets, while others said it was caused by missiles from foreign aircraft.
Hezbollah's Al Manar claimed that the explosions were the result of stray mortars from local clashes, according to Ynet News. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was unclear who caused the explosions, according to Agence France Presse. A Syrian official purportedly told state media that al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists using European weaponry conducted the attack.
A source told the pro-Assad outlet Al Akhbar that three missiles were fired at the base, which caused the explosions and led to the death of at least one soldier. The report further alleged that the rockets may have been fired near the coast, if not from the sea itself.
Reuters today quoted Qassem Saadeddine, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, as saying foreign elements were behind the attack on Latakia. "This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean," Saadeddine stated. Saadeddine also said that the attack targeted "newly supplied Yakhont missiles," according to Reuters.
On May 16, the New York Times reported that Russia had provided Syria with newer versions of the Yakhont "outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective." Syria received its first supply of Yakhont missiles from Russia in 2011, the Times stated. The day before the Times report on the Yakhont missiles, the paper quoted an Israeli official as saying that Israel was prepared to carry out additional strikes in Syria if necessary.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon today denied that Israel was responsible for the incident in Latakia, according to Ynet News. "We haven't intervened in the Syrian bloodshed in a long time .... We've drawn our red lines and we keep to them," he said.
Michael Weiss at Now Lebanon adds:
Regime media have kept silent about what happened beyond saying that a “series of explosions” were reported at the site. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, meanwhile, citing a “military source,” claimed that the explosions were caused by rockets or missiles launched from a different army base; this one close to a village some 20 kilometers north of Latakia.

One Syrian war expert told me that the reported blast seemed “too small” to be another Israeli raid, and anyway, the Salafist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham has been pounding Latakia for quite some time. Many rebels outside of the SMC’s office, which thinks “everything is Israel,” tend to believe that militants from this outfit were in fact responsible, though the source added that this could just be idle boasting.

If Israel took the trouble to powder a consignment of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, as it did last January in its first sortie in Syria since the conflict began, then it would certainly take the trouble to eliminate a warehouse full of Yakhonts, which would pose a clear threat to the Israeli navy and the transport of oil and gas tankers in the Mediterranean. The New York Times reported in May that a new consignment of these supersonic “ship killer” missiles, which can travel as far as 300 kilometers and evade air-defense and electronic countermeasures, had already been delivered to Syria. And The Wall Street Journal cited Israeli and Western intelligence officials who believed at the time that these missiles could easily be transferred to Hezbollah “within days.” Note that this was before Assad’s army, joined by irregular sectarian militias led by Hezbollah, retook Qusayr from the rebels, a strategically vital gateway in the Syria-Lebanon supply corridor. 
Circumstantial evidence but it sure seems more than possible that this was an IDF operation.

(h/t Capt Bill)