More details about Israel's air strike on Syria emerged from around the world Wednesday evening, and while many mysteries remain, everyone seems to agree that this situation could get very, very messy.
Chief amongst those mysteries is what exactly Israel bombed. Israel, of course, is giving everyone the silent treatment, just like it did five years ago when it bombed a suspected nuclear site in Syria. Syria, however, is rather outspoken about the whole affair. Although initial reports suggested that the Israeli attack targeted a truck carrying weapons, Syria now claims the strike was much broader. "Israeli warplanes violated our airspace at dawn today and directly struck one of the scientific research centers responsible for elevating resistance and self-defense capabilities in the area of Jamraya in the Damascus countryside," the Syrian military said in a statement on its official news channel. It went on to explain that the attack killed two, injured five and "caused significant material damage and the destruction of the complex."
Assuming that Syria is telling the truth, one has to wonder: Why the heck would Israel bomb a scientific research facility? The answer is easy. The targeted compound is allegedly where Syria is developing its chemical weapons. Israel — along with the United States — is deeply concerned about what Syria is going to do with its chemical weapons cache. In the worst case scenario, "deepening Israeli concerns that the disintegration of Syria could lead to the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamist militants there or to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group in neighboring Lebanon, posing new threats to Israel's military reach across its borders," explains The Washington Post. It's also unclear if this sort of move would qualify as crossing Obama's "red line." The president said last month that the United States would intervene if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.
So now things are getting really serious. According to the Jerusalem Post, "Israel has been closely monitoring the danger of chemical weapon transfers from Syria to radical groups," so we could assume that it had reason to believe that some sort of transfer was imminent. Then again, Israel sometimes does things that don't have a clear explanation. Some experts on the region believe that the country "took a calculated risk" that the Assad regime was too weak to retaliate and knocking out a chemical weapons facility could only limit the amount of weapons that Syria could pass off to one of its not-so-nice friends. Of course, the aggression could also scare Assad into handing off the weapons sooner, raising the possibility of U.S. intervention and the possibility of a major conflict in the Middle East. But the latest move by Israel may have already put something big in motion — as Timor Goksel, a Hezbollah expert and professor at American University in Beirut, told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday night, "An attack of any kind is a major escalation."
It's not necessarily time to go shopping for bomb shelters, but if you haven't been paying attention to what's going on in Syria, now would be a good time to start. Israel is not backing down. It apparently has satellites looking for weapons convoys in Syria around the clock, and it's clearly not afraid to take action. If you want to be optimistic about the whole hairy situation, though, remember that Israel has technically been at war with Syria since 1967. Over the decades, things have heated up, and they've cooled down. With the current twisted state of alliances in the region now, however, it's hard to imagine a happy ending any time soon.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.