BEIRUT – The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah condemned Israel's airstrike on Syria as "barbaric aggression" and claimed Thursday that it targeted a scientific research center.
Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria on Wednesday, U.S. officials said. The U.S. said the target was a truck convoy. It was believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, an arch foe of Israel.
However the Syrian military denied the existence of any such weapons shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit by the Israeli warplanes. It said the target was in the area of Jamraya, northwest of Damascus and about 10 miles from the Lebanon border.
Hezbollah, closely allied with Syria and Iran, said it "expresses full solidarity with Syria's command, army and people."
Hezbollah did not mention any convoy in the statement but said the strike aimed to prevent Arab and Muslim forces from developing their military capabilities.
Regional security officials said Wednesday the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which if acquired by Hezbollah would be "game-changing," enabling the militants to shoot down Israeli jets, helicopters and surveillance drones. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
In Israel, lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi who is close to hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of confirming Israel's involvement in the strike.
But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future. He said pinpoint strikes are not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria.
"Israel's preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems," Hanegbi said. "But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to," he added.
He was referring to NATO's 2011 military intervention in Libya that helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
"Even if there are reports about pinpoint operations, these are not significant solutions to the threat itself because we are talking about very substantial capabilities that could reach Hezbollah," he added.
Syria's civil war has sapped President Bashar Assad's power and threatens to deprive Hezbollah of a key supporter, in addition to its land corridor to Iran. The two countries provide Hezbollah with the bulk of its funding and arms.
Syria and its allies, including Hezbollah, deny there is an uprising against the government and say what is happening is part of a conspiracy against Damascus because of its support for anti-Israeli groups.
Hezbollah said the attack is part of that conspiracy "that aims to destroy Syria, its army and vital role in the line of resistance" against Israel.
Associated Press writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report from Jerusalem.