The Syrian army announced that Israel has targeted one of its facilities in Hama province early on Thursday, which a war monitor said was a branch of the government agency accused by the U.S. of producing chemical weapons.
The army statement said the airstrike killed two people and caused material damage near the town of Masyaf and warned against the "dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region".
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the strikes hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility, the agency the U.S. government and Western intelligence agencies describe as Syria's chemical weapons manufacturer.
According to the Guardian, even before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Israel considered the center as a target. In 2010, the director of the Israeli National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau alleged that it had provided weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas and called for its destruction.
The attack has taken place as Israel started its largest military drills in almost 20 years. The exercises will continue until September 14 and are mainly centered in the country’s northern sector, near the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
In recent days, there has also been a lot of noise from senior Israeli officials, warning of Iran’s expanding influence in Syria and the dangers this might pose for Israel.
Reuters quotes the Observatory as saying that a military storage camp next to the center was used to store ground-to-ground rockets and that personnel of Iran and its allied Lebanese Hezbollah group had been seen there more than once.
It gave the total number of dead and wounded in the strike as seven and added that a weapons storage facility adjacent to the research center was also hit.
Jerusalem Post says in its report that in addition to the weapons development center being hit, the planes also targeted “several convoys that were en route to Hezbollah strongholds in the area.”
Israeli officials have in the past admitted that Israel has attacked weapons shipments bound for Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, without specifying which ones.
There was no independent confirmation that this was the target but the United Nations has said in the past that the Syrian government has carried out chemical weapons attacks, which Damascus denies.
Reuters says, an Israeli army spokeswoman declined to discuss reports of a strike in Syria, saying the army does not comment on operational matters.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, tweeted that the reported attack was not routine and targeted a Syrian military scientific center.
"The facility at Masyaf also produces chemical weapons and explosive barrels that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians," Yadlin said in the tweet.
He also added’ “The attack sent 3 important messages: Israel won't allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.”
Yadlin also sounded a note of caution. "Now it's important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia."
Israeli officials have also previously said that Israel and Russia, another Assad ally, maintain regular contacts to coordinate military action in Syria.
The targeted center is in Western Syria and well within the umbrella of Russia’s anti-aircraft missile cover over Syria.
There are no reports of Russian or Syrian air defenses having fired any missiles against the attacking aircraft.
Jets flying over Lebanon overnight broke the sound barrier and Lebanese media reported that some Israeli jets had breached Lebanese airspace.
With reporting by Reuters, Jerusalem Post and the Guardian