(CBS News) -- Israel is fortifying its northern defenses following two airstrikes within Syria targeting weapons allegedly being shipped to the militant group Hezbollah - strikes that have raised tension in the region and which one Syrian official described as tantamount to a “declaration of war.”
The Israelis still aren’t admitting they made the strikes or how, but no one doubts they did. The condemnation so far has been more ritual than emphatic, perhaps because of the targets.
The massive explosions that rocked the Syrian capital destroyed shipments of missiles bound for Israel’s archenemy Hezbollah, according to unnamed Israeli officials.
The Israelis claim the consignment included Iranian-made Fateh 110 missiles, capable of delivering half-ton warheads deep into Israeli territory with pinpoint accuracy.
The Syrian government called the attacks a “flagrant violation of international law” which has made the Middle East “more dangerous,” and characterized the strikes as proof of Israeli links to rebel groups fighting to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad told CNN that the strikes were an “act of war.”
But the rhetoric has been muted overall, though the airstrikes have raised concerns about a regional conflict and Israel has deployed several of its “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense batteries to the north to guard against any possible retaliation from Hezbollah.
In what commentators are calling a clear sign that Israel does not expect serious retaliation, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Sunday on a scheduled trip to China.
The Israelis are banking on the Assad regime as not viewing the attacks as intervention in the Syrian conflict itself.
Alon Liel, former Israeli foreign ministry director-general, said, “I hope very much that the world is understanding that the target is, in fact, anti-Hezbollah, anti-Iranian target and not anti-Syria.”
The White House hasn’t commented directly on the strike, but President Obama in the past has said that “the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.”
CBS News’ Allen Pizzey reported on “CBS This Morning” from Tel Aviv, “Reports here suggest the Israelis have told the Syrians through ‘back-door’ diplomatic channels that sealing Assad’s fate is not their aim. Whether or not he believes it is another matter, but there’s little the Syrian leader can do about it either way.”
Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a CBS News senior military security analyst, said the risk of wider war is “Hezbollah’s call.” He said on “CTM,” I don’t think you’re going to see Iran do anything outside its country other than through Hezbollah, so I think it depends on ... Hezbollah, what steps it takes here toward either Israel or perhaps wider.”
Israel could handle an attack to its northern border on its own, Myers said, but added further attacks “inside Israel ... would cause real concern for us.”
Myers said the Fateh 110 missiles, if they were in fact those that were destroyed in the strikes, are a threat for many areas of the world if they are in the hands of Hezbollah. “It’s cause for concern for lots of people—not just that region, but Europe, United States, other (countries.)”
“CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell remarked, “I’ve heard repeatedly from (U.S.) senior administration officials that one of the reasons they don’t want to start an air war with Syria themselves is because they’re concerned about these very advanced air defense systems inside Syria provided by Russia. The fact that Israel was able to do that, does that raise doubts about just how powerful those air defenses are?”
Myers said, “I don’t think we should discount the air defenses in Syria. Russia has provided Syria the latest in air defense weaponry, and my understanding is that these attacks were done from a long standoff range where the aircraft did not have to come into close range to those air defenses. So I’m not sure it tells us anything. I think any air war over Syria, given their air defenses, would be very difficult actually.”