Israel Tries to Cool Tension with Syria After Missile Attacks
(JERUSALEM) -- Two Iron Dome anti-missile systems have been deployed near Israel's northern borders, the Israeli security establishment is on high alert and requests for gas masks have quadrupled. But Israel does not appear to be expecting large-scale retaliation for its strikes on Syria in the past few days.
Jerusalem is also communicating to Damascus that its strikes -- which it has not publicly admitted to -- were not meant as an intervention into Syria's two-year civil war, but rather targeted at the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The strikes early Friday and Sunday morning reportedly targeted a research center near Damascus involved in developing chemical weapons, an airport and Iranian-made ground-to-ground missiles called Fatah-110s bound for Hezbollah.
But Israel is trying to prevent "an increase in tension with Syria by making clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime," a confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel Radio on Monday.
The Israeli newspaper Yeditoh Ahronoth also reported that Israel has used diplomatic back channels to communicate to President Bashar al-Assad that it is not intervening in the civil war.
Analysts said Assad is focused on his fight against the rebels and doesn't want to get involved with Israel right now, while Israel was not looking to engage Syria but protect its self-interests.
"I would expect Israel in the coming days to keep a very low profile, speak as little as possible about the incident and hope that it will pass without any retribution," Israeli Channel 10 military analyst Alon Ben-David told ABC News. "Today it seems that we are going to pass this one without any retribution. However it's not guaranteed in future attacks."
In the wake of the back-to-back strikes, Israel moved two of its much-lauded Iron Dome anti-missile systems to the north of the country near the cities of Haifa and Tzfat. On Sunday, the northern air space was closed to civilian planes, but it was re-opened on Monday.
In another possible sign that Israel doesn't expect imminent retaliation, Netanyahu left Sunday night on a planned trip to China. He did delay his departure by two hours to meet with his security cabinet, but told reporters at the airport he never considered canceling the trip.
Syria immediately called Israel's attack a "declaration of war" and information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said they "opened the door to all possibilities." Lebanese television channel Al Mayadeen, which has close ties to the Assad regime, reported that Syria had moved anti-aircraft batteries closer to its border with Israel.
"We will not accept to be humiliated," al-Zoubi reporters. "We are all in a state of anger. We are abused by this attack."
Syria's government also accused Israel of "collaborating" with the al Qaeda-linked rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has led the fighting against the Assad regime.
Also on Monday, United Nations investigator Carla del Ponte said that testimony from witnesses has provided "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof" that rebel forces in Syria have used sarin nerve gas in the conflict. The U.N. team did not gather evidence.
The allegation follows similar accusations from the U.S. and Israel that regime forces have used chemical weapons, including sarin.
The U.S. said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that the regime used chemical weapons based on "physiological evidence." But last week President Obama said more information was needed.
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