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Without warning

Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights.

Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights.

WASHINGTON — The United States was not given any warning before air strikes in Syria against what Western and Israeli officials say were weapons headed for Hezbollah militants, a US intelligence official said yesterday.

Without confirming that Israel was behind the attacks, the intelligence official said that the United States was essentially told of the air raids “after the fact” and was notified as the bombs went off.

Israeli jets bombed Syria on Sunday for the second time in 48 hours. Israel does not confirm such missions explicitly – a policy it says is intended to avoid provoking reprisals. But an Israeli official acknowledged that the strikes were carried out by its forces.

“It would not be unusual for them to take aggressive steps when there was some chance that some sophisticated weapons system would fall into the hands of people like Hezbollah,” the US intelligence official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the air raids raised fears that America’s main ally in the Middle East could be sucked into the Syrian conflict, Israel typically does not feel it has to ask for a green light from Washington for such attacks.

Destruction from bomb attack in the Al-Hama area of Damascus on Sunday.

Destruction from bomb attack in the Al-Hama area of Damascus on Sunday.

Officials have indicated in the past that Israel sees a need only to inform the United States once such a mission is under way.

US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that Israel has the right to guard against the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, an ally of both Syria and Iran.

Rather than an attempt to tip the scales against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Israel’s action is seen more as part of its own conflict with Iran, which it fears is sending missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria. Those missiles might hit Tel Aviv if Israel makes good on threats to attack Tehran’s nuclear program.

Another Western intelligence source told Reuters the latest attack, like the previous one, was directed against stores of Fateh-110 missiles in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.

People were woken in the Syrian capital by explosions that shook the ground like an earthquake and sent pillars of flames high into the night sky. Syrian state television said bombing at a military research facility at Jamraya and two other sites caused “many civilian casualties and widespread damage”, but it gave no details. The Jamraya compound was also a target for Israel on January 30.

The US intelligence official said additional strikes in the future could not be ruled out.

“Any sophisticated weaponry that finds its way there (Syria) that looks to be destined to fall in the hands of bad actors, I think there is a likelihood that those could be targets as well,” the second official said. (Reuters)

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