< Previous Page
Hezbollah has not obtained any of Syria’s large chemical weapons arsenal and is not interested in such weapons, Gilad said. Instead, the militia is "enthusiastic about other weapons systems and rockets that reach here (Israel)," he said Saturday in a speech in southern Israel.
Assad "is not provoking Israel and the incidents along the border (between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan) are coincidental," Gilad said.
Obama says he won’t comment on Israeli airstrike
San Jose, Costa Rica » President Barack Obama says he won’t comment on an Israeli airstrike against Syria that targeted a shipment of advanced missiles believed to be headed for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Israeli officials on Saturday confirmed the strike, which took place early Friday.
Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo in an interview that he will defer to the Israeli government for comment. He also repeated his view that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to organizations like Hezbollah. The U.S. considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Obama conducted the interview Saturday, and a portion of the president’s answer to a question about the airstrike was broadcast on MSNBC.
After Hezbollah’s military infrastructure was badly hit during the 2006 war, the group was rearmed by Iran and Syria — with Tehran sending the weapons and Damascus providing the overland supply route to Lebanon.
"This is a very sophisticated network of Iranian arms, Syrian collection, storage, distribution and transportation to Hezbollah," said Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center and in 2007 involved in U.N. weapons monitoring in Lebanon.
Shaikh said Israel had detailed knowledge of weapons shipments to Hezbollah at the time and most likely has good intelligence now. "The Israelis are watching like hawks to see what happens to these weapons," he said.
With Israel apparently enforcing its red lines, much now depends on the response from Hezbollah and Syria, analysts said.
Israeli officials have long feared that Assad may try to draw Israel into the civil war in hopes of diverting attention and perhaps rallying Arab support behind him.
But retaliation for Israeli airstrikes would come at a high price, said Moshe Maoz, an Israeli expert on Syria.
"Bashar has his own problems and he knows that conflict with Israel would cause the collapse of his regime," Maoz said. "He could have done that long ago, but he knows he will fall if Israel gets involved."
Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Assad’s troops, appears to have linked its fate to the survival of the Syrian regime. Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, said this week that Syria’s allies "will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel."
On the other hand, Hezbollah could endanger its position as Lebanon’s main political and military force if it confronts Israel, and it’s not clear if the militia is willing to take that risk.
Hezbollah isn’t Israel’s only concern. Israeli officials believe it is only a matter of time before Assad’s government collapse, and they fear that some of the Islamic extremist groups battling him will turn their attention toward Israel once Assad is gone.
Reflecting Israel’s anxiety, the Israeli military called up several thousand reservists earlier this week for what it called a "surprise" military exercise on its border with Lebanon.
Obama has said the use of chemical weapons would have "enormous consequences," but has also said he needs more definitive proof before making a decision about how to respond.
Obama said Friday that he didn’t foresee a scenario in which the U.S. would send troops to Syria. Instead, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said Washington is reviewing its opposition to arming the opposition.
The U.S. so far has balked at sending weapons to the rebels, fearing the arms could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups or other extremists in the opposition ranks.
Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, is heading to Moscow next week to try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to support, or at least not veto, a fresh effort to impose U.N. penalties on Syria if Assad doesn’t begin political transition talks with the opposition.
Russia, alongside China, has blocked U.S.-led efforts three times at the United Nations to pressure Assad into stepping down.
In Syria, about 4,000 Sunni Muslims fled the coastal town of Banias on Saturday, a day after reports circulated that dozens of people, including children, had been killed by pro-government gunmen in the area, activists said.
Also Saturday, Assad made his second public appearance in a week in the capital Damascus. Syrian state TV said Assad, who rarely appears in public, visited a Damascus campus, and footage showed him being thronged by a large crowd. The report said Assad inaugurated a statue dedicated to "martyrs" from Syrian universities who died in the country’s uprising and civil war.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Bradley S. Klapper and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed reporting.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.