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Israeli airstrike in Syria aimed at Iran


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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced concern Monday, speaking by telephone with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Lavrov called for restraint and emphasized the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity

In launching the strikes, Israel took a gamble that Assad and his allies Iran and Hezbollah do not want to open a new front while preoccupied with the survival of his regime.

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Israel moved quickly to reduce tensions. In a sign of "business as usual," Netanyahu traveled Monday to China for a previously scheduled trip.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s Likud Party who is close to the prime minister, said Israel is trying to avoid "escalating tension with Syria."

"If there is activity, then it is only against Hezbollah, and not against the Syrian regime," he told Israel Radio.

During the 2006 war, sparked by a deadly Hezbollah cross-border raid, the militant group fired some 4,000 rockets into Israel.

Israel believes Hezbollah has restocked its arsenal with tens of thousands of rockets — albeit unguided, but some putting Tel Aviv within range.

The rockets destroyed over the weekend could have posed a greater threat, Israeli officials say.

The Fateh-110s have advanced guidance systems that allow them to travel up to 300 kilometers (200 miles) with great precision. Their solid-fuel propellant allows them to be launched at short notice, making them hard to detect and neutralize.

Israel has identified several other weapons systems as game changers that it cannot allow to reach Hezbollah, including chemical weapons, Russian-made Yakhont missiles that can be fired from land and destroy ships at sea, and Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Israel’s January airstrike is believed to have destroyed a shipment of the SA-17s.


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Syria already possesses the SA-17s, and it is not clear whether Israel broke through Syria’s air defenses in its recent airstrikes or fired missiles from Lebanese or Israeli airspace.

While Israel has tried to narrow the recent days’ events to its conflict with Hezbollah, the airstrikes have shaken Israel’s larger rivalry with arch-enemy Iran.

Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat involved in past back-channel talks with Syria, said the Israeli airstrikes were a message to Iran, not Syria. "We don’t want to see Iran controlling the area," he said.

Yet all sides have strong reasons not to escalate.

Israel is already preoccupied with trying to halt Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, while containing Hamas militants in Gaza, jihadists in Egypt’s Sinai and Hezbollah to the north.

The Syrian army, while far weaker than Israel’s, still possesses advanced missiles, an air force and chemical weapons. Various militant groups battling Assad, including al-Qaida-backed jihadists, might also enter the fray and turn their weapons toward Israel.

Aram Nerguizian, an analyst at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes Hezbollah does not want to get involved in a war with Israel because that would undermine the militia’s efforts to try to save the Syrian regime.

Assad’s continued rule is seen as vital for Hezbollah’s own survival, in part because Syria has been the conduit for Iranian weapons to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is increasingly involved in the Syrian civil war, sending forces to fight Syrian rebels. However, if Hezbollah were to retaliate for the Israeli airstrike, it would have to divert some of its forces from Syria.

Israel "took a calculated risk that Iran and Hezbollah are committed in Syria," Nerguizian said. Hezbollah has not commented on Israel’s weekend airstrikes, another indication that the militia might be holding back.

The latest tension come as Washington considers how to respond to indications the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons in its civil war. President Barack Obama has described the use of such weapons as a "red line," and the administration is weighing its options.

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