There is tension and anger in Syria today after Israel hit the nation with its second airstrike in three days, this time hitting a military research facility outside Damascus. The attack in the early morning hours Sunday reportedly killed up to 100 Syrian soldiers.
Syria deemed the Israeli attack a “declaration of war,” a senior Syrian official told CNN. But analysts don’t expect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to have much appetite for engaging in conflict with the powerful Israeli military, particularly while he is preoccupied with battling rebels in his own protracted civil war.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said the attack represented an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel.
“When they attack, this is a declaration of war. This is not something that is (new),” al Mekdad told CNN. “We dealt with this on several occasions and we retaliated the way we wanted, and the retaliation was always painful to Israel, and they will suffer again.”
After an emergency meeting of Syria’s Cabinet on Sunday, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi went on state television to declare that the attack “opens the door wide open for all possibilities.” But he didn’t say what those possibilities would be.
Last week, Israel conducted an airstrike in Syria to stop a shipment of missiles bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militia, a longtime enemy of Israel. The shipment did not include chemical arms, but officials described the missiles as “game changing.” In January, Israel carried out airstrikes against SA-17 anti-aircraft weapons, which they feared were about to be moved to Hezbollah.
Israel has kept close watch on the movement of materials to Hezbollah from Syria, fearful that Hezbollah might get its hands on chemical weapons and advanced arms that could be used against Israel.
Israel refused to confirm this latest strike, according to the New York Times.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby condemned the Sunday morning attack and called on the United Nations Security Council to “move immediately in order to stop and prevent Israeli attacks on Syria.” Egypt and Iran also condemned the Israeli attack.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Ban “calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict.”
The Sunday blasts hit a large military area in the suburbs of Syria’s capital, Damascus, prompting terrified residents nearby to run for cover.
“Everything kept exploding over and over again,” Anna Deeb, whose family lives just over a mile away, told the New York Times. “We could hear gunshots, we could hear people screaming. … We didn’t know what to do, and there was a problem with us breathing because the smoke was too much.”
Though Assad has talked tough about ending Israeli aggression, Syrians no longer believe him. They point out that while the government’s security forces and military fail to prevent Israeli strikes, they have killed tens of thousands of Syrians and jailed many more to hold on to power. The Syrians and Israelis last clashed in 1973.
In the U.S., Senator John McCain called on President Obama to take action, saying the president’s declaration of a “red line” over Syria’s use of chemical weapons had been written in “disappearing ink.”
“Apparently the Syrians and Iranians have crossed a red line with the Israelis,” McCain said on Fox News. “Firstly, he never should have drawn the red line. Second of all, the red lines were a green light to Bashar al-Assad to do anything short of that. Unfortunately, the red line that the president of the United States has written was apparently written in disappearing ink.”