On Sunday, U.S. officials confirmed that Israel carried out an air strike inside Syria earlier this summer. The strike took place on July 5 near the port city of Latakia, where it is believed that the Syrian armed forces had acquired advanced antiship weapons from Russia. The Russian Yakhont missiles are part of the Syrian coastal defense system- U.S. officials have refused to reveal the details of the strike, except to say, Israel's goal is to prevent the transfer of advance weapons from the Syrian government to Hezbollah. Up to 20 Syrian Soldiers are thought to have been killed in the strike.
The news channel Russia Today (RT) claimed that the Israeli air force (IAF) launched the strike from a Turkish military base. Reportedly, "a reliable source" told RT "Israeli planes left a military base inside Turkey and approached Latakia from the sea to make sure that they stayed out of Syrian airspace so that they cannot become a legitimate target for the Syrian air force." The reports of Turkish involvement have been denied by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said that the claims were 'complete lies' and had no 'basis in reality'. Israel's latest strike into Syria- makes it the fourth time this year that Israel has attacked Syria.
Interestingly, both Israel and Syria have been silent about the latest reports of the strike. Four-days after the strike the Israelis denied any involvement, Defense Minister, Moshe Ya'alon said "Israel is not involving itself in the Syrian civil war and is typically the target for blame following military strikes in the region". The Syrian government has not reacted to the news of an Israeli strike on Latakia. Haaretz's defense and military analyst, Amos Harel, wrote "It remains to be seen if Assad will chose to ignore this latest attack, believing that slight humiliation in the media is still preferable to a direct confrontation with Israel".
The strike only confirms Israel's direct involvement in the Syrian crisis and it may yet get further involved in it. Israel's "red lines" are mostly concerned with Hezbollah and the potential transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. However, Israeli involvement only serves to further complicate the Syrian crisis. The belligerent relationship between Syria and Israel has hit an all-time low, but to describe the two sides as 'enemies' would be overly simplistic, as I have written about here. In May, when the rebels captured the Golan Heights crossing, Israel allowed the Syrian army to launch a recapture operation and even helped to treat wounded Syrians. Some reports suggest that the Syrian army carried out the offensive from no-man's land with Israel's permission.
However, despite these reports, it is likely that Syria and Israel are heading towards open conflict. The Syrian regime often projects itself as the bedrock of Arab nationalism, the Palestinian cause, and resistance against Israel and the West. Failure to respond to the latest strike will only further delegitimize the regime in the eyes of the Syrian people. Israel, which maintains that it wants to stay out of Syria, has made further involvement into Syria unavoidable. The consequences of the strike remain to be seen. However, whatever they may be, the crisis in Syria has clearly been made worse and may escalate and spread to neighbouring countries.