Latakia, (Al-Akhbar): A new Israeli strike has targeted the Syrian army. If Israeli and Western reports are true, then the strike on Wednesday, October 30, would be the fourth – or fifth by some accounts – since the beginning of 2013. The strike was reportedly initiated from a remote position in the sea, with Israel saying it was meant to prevent the transfer of “game-changing” weapons to Hezbollah.
On Thursday night, October 31, White House sources told CNN that Israeli warplanes had carried out a strike near Latakia in Syria the day before, targeting a base that contained missile systems “the Israelis felt might be transferred to Hezbollah.”
Throughout Thursday, the Israeli press ran with the story, alleging at times that the target was Yakhont-type anti-ship missiles, and at others that it was strategic surface-to-air missiles (SAM).
On Wednesday, a massive explosion was reported in the coastal city of Latakia. At around 4 pm local time, the residents of the city heard a blast. The city is surrounded by military bases, and is home to a large number of military personnel and their families. Quickly, reports circulated in the city that a rocket had exploded inside a storage facility, causing a larger explosion. Later, a “more accurate” account circulated stating that a rocket from the sea had hit an air defense base near the town of Snobar, between Latakia and Jableh.
At the official level, the usual silent treatment was still the rule. Syrian officials who spoke to the media either said that what happened was an “accident,” or stated that the incident was “confidential.” Yet all accounts agreed that the target of the strike was a Syrian air defense base near Snobar.
The base in question is known to hold S-125 SAM missiles, which Western armies know as SAM-3. Information about the facility is available through online satellite map services. The missiles in question, meanwhile, were manufactured in the former Soviet Union in 1961, and have a range of about 35 km.
In the 1970s, SAM-3 was considered a strategic missile, before the Russian army took it out of active service in the early 1990s, now only using it for target practice. However, this type of missile remains in active service in many countries around the world, including Syria, albeit it is no longer a “strategic” missile compared to the more advanced S-200 system that Syria possesses, or the state-of-the-art S-300 system that Russia is rumored to have transferred to Syria.
Furthermore, in Lebanese military considerations, the missiles present in the Snobar base could be said to be game-changing. Indeed, at least theoretically, these missiles can be used to down airplanes over the northern region of occupied Palestine.
In other words, the missiles in Snobar have no serious value for Syria, but are indeed game-changing for Lebanon. If what the Israeli media and US sources have said is true, then the “incentive” behind Israel’s attack is clear.
In Damascus, more than 24 hours after the blast in Latakia, an official source said that a missile hit a base near Jableh on the coast, “without causing significant damage.” The source added that the launch location of the missile “remains unknown.”
The official Syrian handling of the matter has led to public outrage, especially among the regime’s supporters, who have demanded to know the truth about what happened. A resident of the area near the targeted air base said that the panic he and his family felt in the aftermath of the explosion has prompted him to search for the truth, only to discover later, as he said, that the Israeli account was more forthcoming than the official Syrian explanation.
Further aggravating public concern was the fire that broke out on Thursday in the village of Jouba al-Berghal on the outskirts of Latakia, before official sources denied the blaze had anything to do with military operations.
It is worth noting that the Israeli strike, if the Syrian government acknowledges it had indeed taken place, would be the second in three months: On July 5, Israel struck a military base near Samiya in the Haffa district of the Latakia countryside. Field sources told Al-Akhbar at the time that the raid had targeted an empty Syrian army warehouse, before US press reports, quoting officials in Washington, said that the missiles had been moved before the strike.
Prior to that, Israel carried out a strike against Syrian military positions close to the capital, near the end of January. A research facility in Jamraya was bombed twice (January and May), and military positions in Mount Qassioun, Maysaloun, and near Damascus International Airport came under Israeli attack.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.