Israel’s defence minister has indicated that his country was behind an air strike in Syria last week, in the first public comments from his government on the attack.
Ehud Barak on Sunday refrained from a direct confirmation as he brought the issue up at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
“I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago,” Barak told participants.
But he added: “It’s another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don’t think that it should be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon, the Hezbollah from Syria, when [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad falls.”
According to US officials, Wednesday’s attack hit a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons inside Syria bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah group but Israel has not publicly acknowledged the air strike.
The Syrian military said the target of Israeli jets was a scientific research centre. The facility is in the area of Jamraya, northwest of the capital.
Following Barak’s comments, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel of trying to destabilise Syria and said Damascus was able to confront “current threats …and aggression” against it.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said Assad made the remarks in a meeting with Saeed Jalili, Iran’s national security council secretary, at meeting in Damascus. It was Assad’s first reported response to the attack.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed fears that if Syria were to disintegrate, Assad could lose control of his chemical weapons and other arms.
Purported images of the targeted site, aired by Syrian state television on Saturday, show destroyed cars, trucks and military vehicles. A building has broken widows and damaged interiors, but no major structural damage.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leaders and rebels on Friday slammed Assad for not responding to the air strike, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to Israel.
On Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is in the process of forming a new ruling coalition, said his new government would have to deal with weapons “being stockpiled near us and threatening our cities and civilians” – an apparent reference to the deteriorating situation in Syria.
Barak said “Hezbollah from Lebanon and the Iranians are the only allies that Assad has left”.
He said in his view Assad’s fall “is coming imminently” and when it happens, “this will be a major blow to the Iranians and Hezbollah.”
“I think that they will pay the price,” he said.