by Lilach Shoval, Gadi Golan, Daniel Siryoti, Eli Leon, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz: Israel's position is clear: Smuggling arms to Hezbollah is a red line.
The site of the alleged Israeli airstrike south of Homs
An Israeli airstrike targeted a weapons factory south of the Syrian city of Homs late Wednesday night, Syrian and Lebanese media reported, adding the Syrian army fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli fighter jets but missed. The report was not corroborated by any official Israeli source.
According to Sky News, four Israeli raids targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant in the industrial area of Hissia, 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Homs and 112 kilometers (70 miles) north of Damascus.
An unnamed Syrian military official was quoted by local media as saying the target was a copper factory, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that reports on the civil war raging in the country, said the airstrike had targeted a military installation.
According to foreign media reports, the strike was the latest in a string of similar moves that have targeted Hezbollah-bound weapon shipments.
Israeli officials have expressed concern over Iran's growing influence in Syria, where Tehran-backed groups have played a critical role fighting in support of President Bashar Assad during the conflict that erupted in 2011.
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said Thursday that Israel would not allow weapon deliveries to Hezbollah.
"I can't, of course, relate to reports about the IDF's attack in Syria, but regardless, Israel's position is clear: Smuggling arms to Hezbollah is a red line for us," he told Army Radio.
"Israel has acted in the past and it will act in the future, according to available intelligence, to prevent arms smuggling to Hezbollah," he said, adding that "I think the other side also understands this clearly, it understands that past strikes, for which we did take responsibility, were in line with this policy and these red lines."
'We're ready for any scenario'
The strike has raised security tensions on Israel's northern borders at a time when tensions on the Israel-Gaza Strip border are also climbing.
On Monday the Israeli military discovered and destroyed an Islamic Jihad terror tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel. The terrorist group vowed to avenge the nine operatives killed in the blast, and a senior official said the group's forces have been instructed "to be on high alert. Any understandings with the Zionist enemy are revoked."
A senior defense official with the IDF's Southern Command said Wednesday that "this is still an ongoing operation and we still have decisions to make. Islamic Jihad was dealt a serious blow and it deserved it. We won't apologize for it. We're ready for any scenario."
The official said that while no special instructions were issued to residents of the border-adjacent communities, the military was taking the Islamic Jihad's threats seriously as "they're struggling to contain this event because of the high number fatalities. Rockets or mortar shells can start flying here at any minute.
"Islamic Jihad has retaliation capabilities. They're still not done recovering bodies from the rubble. Their dilemma is when and how to retaliate, but on the other hand, the further we move from the incident the greater the chance they won't react," he said.
According to the official, it was possible that the lack of immediate retaliation by Islamic Jihad over the tunnel's destruction stemmed from Hamas' strategic preference to prioritize the rapprochement with Fatah. Still, it is possible that Iran might try to sabotage the Palestinian unity deal by pushing Islamic Jihad to retaliate.
"We are prepared for multiple scenarios, including the possibility that they [Islamic Jihad] would target Judea and Samaria," he said. "If they make a mistake and strike, they will be made to pay a price. Right now, they're focused on how they can redeem their failures and that may prompt reckless actions."
The IDF has elevated the alert level on the Gaza border, as well as in several other locations. As a precaution, it was also decided to limit troop movements in certain areas near the security fence.
The tunnel's destruction has been hailed as a significant achievement by the Defense Ministry, IDF and the Israeli military industries, which together have developed tunnel-detection technologies that complement the defense establishment's new operational perception.
"The discovery of the tunnel was not accidental. There's a system in place, the consolidation of several capabilities into one system that we didn’t have before," the official said. "We have significantly improved the ability to monitor depths of between 60 and 70 meters (200-230 feet) and it changed the situation on the ground. We're making progress in neutralizing the tunnel threat. In the past, Hamas was more advanced than us, but we've narrowed the gaps and we're on our way to circumvent the enemy."
The official said that a team of experts – engineers, geologists and intelligence analysts – is involved in tunnel detection efforts. The team "decides whether there are suspicious developments underground. Anyone who is in the subterranean zone is endangering themselves. Anyone digging a tunnel in Gaza should know that they're placing themselves at risk."
Another defense official said, "We caught Hamas and Islamic Jihad with their pants down. They didn't expect it, and the fact that we knew exactly where and how deep the tunnel was only proved that we're on the right path to developing technology to eradicate tunnels.
"The strategy formulated to counter the tunnel threat includes a wall, technology and intelligence. The technology has proved itself to be effective because we reached the most accurate level possible to neutralize the tunnel."
He stressed that the Islamic Jihad's tunnel had yet to become operational, saying, "We know that the tunnel's construction began months ago. It was not operational, it didn’t have an exit shaft on the Israeli side of the border, and it was not a threat to [border-adjacent] communities."
Lilach Shoval, Gadi Golan, Daniel Siryoti, Eli Leon, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff
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