MUNICH -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly signaled yesterday that his country was behind an airstrike in Syria last week, telling a high-profile security conference that Israeli threats to take pre-emptive action against its enemies are not empty. "We mean it," Barak declared.
Israel has not officially confirmed that its planes attacked a site near Damascus, targeting ground-to-air missiles apparently heading for Lebanon, but its intentions have been beyond dispute. During the 22 months of civil war in Syria, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that high-end weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group.
For years, Israel has been asserting that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran have been arming Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006.
U.S. officials say the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Deployed in Lebanon, they could have limited Israel's ability to gather intelligence on its enemies from the air.
Over the weekend, Syrian TV broadcast video of the Wednesday attack site for the first time, showing destroyed vehicles and a damaged building identified as a scientific research center. The U.S. officials said the airstrike hit both the building and the convoy.
Barak, in his comments in Munich, came close to confirming that his country was behind the operation.
"I keep telling frankly that we said -- and that's proof when we said something we mean it -- we say that we don't think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon," he said.