Immediately after Israel's latest unprovoked strike on Syria we posed the question, did Benjamin Netanyahu just panic? The answer is yes, Israel is now acting from a position of desperation as it has failed in its goal of regime change in Syria. Overnight (Wed. evening/Thursday early morning), Israel attacked a Syrian military base near the town of Masyaf at about 3:00 a.m. which Syria has now confirmed in a statement that warns of "serious repercussions". Syria reported two troop deaths in the attack. It appears to have been a massive strike - grainy photos show a large fireball lighting up the night sky outside of Masyaf.
Israel appears to have timed its attack to occur on the very night a controversial U.N. report was released earlier in the day (Wednesday) which blames the Assad government for using chemical weapons against civilians at Khan Sheikhoun in April. A number of Israeli analysts and media reports purport the Masyaf base to be a site for chemical and non-conventional weapons storage (such as "barrel bombs") while claiming the attack was motivated by "humanitarian" concern for Syrian civilians.
But this is the reason for Israeli media and defense officials quickly claiming that the strike at Masyaf was on a chemical weapons facility: they know the "humanitarian" angle sells in the West, especially when coupled with allegations of civilians being gassed. Currently, this is putting the dubious and contested claim that the Syrian government attacked Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas back in the spotlight at a time when Israel is eager to sell war for regime change while casting its actions in terms of protecting and defending civilians from a brutal dictator. In typical fashion the big newsrooms, which rarely report from inside Syria but instead opt for the comfort of Beirut, are uncritically echoing the "humanitarian airstrike" narrative. The New York Times, in a report filed from Jerusalem, narrates the attack as follows while relying on unnamed "former Israeli officials" and a single Syrian pro-opposition outlet:
Israeli officials did not comment on the strike, but a Syrian monitoring group and two former Israeli officials said it had targeted an installation of a government agency that produced chemical weapons and a military base that produced advanced missiles.
The strike came a day after a United Nations commission accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in an attack in April that killed dozens in the town of Khan Sheikhoun and flooded clinics with victims gasping for breath.
Initially some Syria observers questioned how the Israeli Air Force could strike so deep inside Syria with no response from the country's advanced Russian made S-400 anti-aircraft system. But it appears Syrian airspace was never violated as the Israeli jets reportedly fired from over Lebanon. Masyaf lies west of Hama and just north of the Lebanese border. While Israel's incursion into sovereign Lebanese airspace is illegal according to international law, Lebanon cannot respond as it has no air force nor does it possess adequate anti-aircraft missiles.
It is further significant that Israel chose to fire from over Lebanon (not for the first time) even though it has routinely violated Syrian air space in previous attacks. It appears that Israel calculated it's strike position to be in the vicinity of Russian military presence yet without forcing a Russian response by directly violating air space. The attack comes just over two weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. By many accounts the meeting was contentious as Netanyahu warned Putin that Israel would not tolerate Iranian presence in Syria. It was further revealed that a senior Israeli official accompanying Netanyahu on the trip threatened to assassinate Syrian President Assad by bombing his palace in Damascus, while further adding that Israel will seek to derail the US-Russia brokered de-escalation deal reached in Astana, Kazakhstan earlier this summer.
Russia's Pravda described a frantic and upset Netanyahu at the Sochi talks with the following: "according to eyewitnesses of the open part of the talks, the Israeli prime minister was too emotional and at times even close to panic. He described a picture of the apocalypse to the Russian president that the world may see, if no efforts are taken to contain Iran, which, as Netanyahu believes, is determined to destroy Israel."