(MintPress) – Israeli officials are prepping for what could be a full-scale ground invasion of Syria after attacks by Israeli warplanes struck targets deep inside Syrian territory late last month, the first Israeli attacks on Syria in more than five years.
Conflicting reports on both sides leave the identity of the targets a mystery. However, the assault marks a sudden escalation in hostilities between the countries, threatening to become a full-blown war should Israel invade.
Israeli officials claim to have struck an arms convoy headed for southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah — a political party that emerged after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 that has acted as a resistance movement against Israel through financial support from Iran and Syria.
Syrian officials give a differing account, claiming the strike was against a military research center.
Prior to attacks last month, Israel remained relatively quiet, taking a strictly hands-off approach to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives since the outbreak of hostilities in 2011.
The United States, one of Israel’s closest allies, reportedly approved the attack and has given an implicit go-ahead for future strikes against Syria. Israel is the top recipient of U.S. military aid, receiving more than $3 billion dollars annually.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed the Jan. 30 attack, saying “it’s another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don’t think that it should be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon, the Hezbollah from Syria, when [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad falls.”
Barak added: “Hezbollah from Lebanon and the Iranians are the only allies that Assad has left.”
Barak forgot to mention Russia, a key ally propping up the failing Assad regime. Russian officials condemned last month’s attack by Israel saying “unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the U.N. Charter … is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.”
Israeli officials are considering an invasion to create a “buffer zone” 10 miles into Syrian territory as a means to protect against possible attacks on Israeli territory and the occupied Golan Heights. Critics charge that the proposed buffer zone constitutes an illegal land grab, violating international law.
Israel and Syria came close to signing a peace treaty in 2010 when Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu engaged in secret negotiations with the Syrian government. The talks were brokered by the U.S., bringing the two adversaries together in what could have been a critical agreement for both countries.
The Israeli government was considering returning all, or most, of the occupied Golan Heights in exchange for guarantees that Syria would end its material support for Hezbollah. Talks fell apart after the outbreak of Arab Spring uprisings in early 2011.
The Golan Heights, an area considered to be part of Syria under international law, has been occupied by Israel since it captured the territory in the 1967 War.