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Israeli jets bomb arms shipment to Hezbollah and Turkey complains

30 January 2013

Israel has admitted that it bombed a delivery convoy of arms supplies, en route to Hezbollah, on Wednesday 30 January 2013. The bombing took place on the Damascus to Beirut road, near the border. The ship allegedly contained Russian SA 17 missiles.

Tensions in the area have grown as the disarray within Syria continues to escalate. Israel has frequently voiced concerns at the prospect of weapons and armaments of the Syrian army falling into the hands of Hezbollah. The cooperation between the Assad government of Syria and Iran is long standing and well documented, and Israeli has often claimed that Iranian munitions, including chemical weapons, could be shipped to Hezbollah via this route.

Syria filed an official complaint at the UN and cited the 1974 disengagement agreement between the two countries that remain officially at war to this day. The UN has not commented on the complaint, nor made confirmation of it.

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As in the case of the ‘weapons of mass destruction' debate in relation to Iraq, such claims are difficult to verify. However, President Obama has indicated that such a step would be likely to trigger a US intervention in the region.

Syria maintains that the Israeli account of the incident is incorrect. It claims that the bombs hit a ‘scientific research centre' at Jamraya. Footage of the attack was broadcast on Syrian television.

Contrary to the earlier claims of the Syrians, most of the damage appeared to have taken place in a car park near a building. There was a crater visible together with the remains of both civilian vehicles and what appeared to be military trucks.

The raid was based on a calculation by the Israelis that the Assad government was too weak to retaliate, and that Syria's neighbours would not wish to become involved.

American intelligence has confirmed that the air strike was targeted on a military convoy and there was no evidence to support the claim that any buildings had been hit.

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey rose to the occasion. He criticised Israel for the attack and complained that the Syrian government did not make a response. Relations between Turkey and Israeli hit rock bottom in May 2010 when the ‘Freedom Flotilla', bound for the Gaza strip, was stopped by the Israelis on the high seas. Erdogan's criticism of Israeli should be viewed within that context.

President Gul, of Turkey, reiterated the sentiments of Erdogan in what appeared to to be part of a customary condemnation of Israeli policies within the region.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's remarked on the attack in early February, when he accusingly questioned why Syrian President Bashar al Assad, “could not even throw a pebble at the Israeli jets flying over his palace.” President Abdullah Gul promised that Turkey would not just watch as Israel attacked a Muslim country, and this reflects the official sour mood in ties today.

Following Davutoglu's remarks, which also included an insinuation that Israel had concluded some kind of secret deal with the Assad regime, angry Israeli officials talking to the Israel media accused Turkey of “brazen hypocrisy,” while the conservative Jerusalem Post , in a Feb. 2 editorial, concluded that “The time has come to recognize that Turkey has changed radically — and for the worse.”

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The lack of a military response by Syria is widely interpreted as confirmation of its impotence due to the internal conflict. The Syrian response was a call to the warring factions within Syria to unite and repulse external aggression. Syrian authorities stated that the raid was a conspiracy against Damascus by the Israelis, the West and regional antagonists such as Qatar and Turkey. This places Turkey in a difficult position as it has criticised the Assad regime in Syria of clinging on to power and has implicitly supported the Syrian opposition. The well publicised arrival of Patriot missiles in Turkey, some of which are based at a large military installation at Gaziantep will assist Turkey to repel any incursions by Syrian warplanes and missiles. Military activity at Gaziantep has stepped up in recent months and the town is a mere 35 miles from the Syrian border. It is within this context that Turkey's condemnation of a lack of Syrian response to the raid should be seen.

Copyright - Leslie Hardy, 12 February 2013

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