JERUSALEM — Israel intervened militarily in Syria's complex civil war Wednesday, launching an air assault that destroyed either a convoy of antiaircraft missiles that were bound for Lebanon or a scientific research center near Damascus that previously had been the target of rebel groups.
Precise details of what took place were difficult to come by. The Israeli government didn't officially acknowledge the attack. Regional intelligence officials familiar with the assault said the target had been an arms convoy that was traveling toward Lebanon on the main highway linking Damascus with Beirut.
The Syrian government added to the confusion late Wednesday by claiming that Israeli warplanes had struck what it called a scientific research center in Jamraya in the Damascus countryside, killing two workers, and denying that any convoy had been struck.
U.S. officials in Washington declined to comment.
What was certain, however, was that Israel, whose officials have expressed concern for months that Syrian weapons would fall into the hands of either Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group or al-Qaida-linked Islamists among Syria's rebel groups, had felt compelled to act.
Israel's action was considered serious enough that the country's military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, traveled to Washington this week to discuss the move in advance, an Israeli intelligence officer told McClatchy. "Kochavi directly relayed our concerns to the Americans," the officer said.
Another Israeli intelligence officer told McClatchy that the target of the attack had been Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft missiles and other weapons systems that were being taken from Syria into Lebanon. He said the weapons, which included advanced electronic systems that could disable a variety of Israeli aircraft, would have been a "game changer" had they fallen under Hezbollah's control.