MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday an attack on a Syrian arms complex showed Israel was serious about preventing the flow of heavy weapons into Lebanon, appearing to acknowledge for the first time that Israel carried out the strike.
Israel has maintained official silence over Wednesday’s raid, which Syria said targeted a military research centre north-west of Damascus.
“I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago,” Barak told a security conference in Munich on Sunday.
“But I keep telling frankly that we said, and that is another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don’t think it should be allowable to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”
Diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources said Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, apparently hitting weapons destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006.
Syria denied the assertions, saying the target was the Jamraya complex on the northwestern fringes of Damascus and 8 miles (13 km) from the border.
Some of the diplomats and security sources said the apparently contradictory accounts might refer to the same incident, given Jamraya’s proximity to the border and the fact that vehicles inside the complex were hit as well as buildings.
Syrian television broadcast footage from the Jamraya base for the first time, showing extensive damage to buildings and several heavy military vehicles which appeared capable of carrying missiles. At least one vehicle, with light desert khaki markings, was equipped with what looked like a satellite dish.
Several burnt out cars and lorries - including one with a large hole smashed through the roof of the driver’s cabin - could also be seen in the footage, as well as the badly damaged interior of an office.
Until Barak’s comment, Israel had maintained silence over the attack, as it did in 2007 when it bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site - an attack that passed without Syrian military retaliation.
Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon warned on Thursday that his county could take “a surprise decision to respond”, but gave no details. Damascus protested to the United Nations, saying it considered the raid a violation of a 1974 military disengagement agreement which followed the last major Israeli-Syrian war.
In his first reported response to the attack, President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel on Sunday of seeking to destabilise Syria and said Damascus was able to confront “current threats ... and aggression” against it.
Assad made the remarks in a meeting with Saeed Jalili, Iran’s national security council secretary, who pledged Tehran’s “full support for the Syrian people ... facing the Zionist aggression, and its continued coordination to confront the conspiracies and foreign projects”.
The Syrian president, Shi‘ite Iran’s closest Arab ally, is battling a 22-month-old uprising in which 60,000 people have been killed. Assad says the rebels are Islamist terrorists funded and armed by Turkey and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states.
Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut; editing by Andrew Roche