WASHINGTON — Israeli aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as U.S. officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.
U.S. officials did not provide details on the target of the Israeli strike. But in late January, Israel carried out airstrikes against SA-17 antiaircraft weapons, which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.
Israel has been worried that chemical weapons and advanced arms might be transferred to Hezbollah from Syria, and the Israeli military has made clear that it is prepared to take action to stop such shipments.
President Bashar Assad of Syria has long had a close relationship with Hezbollah, and Syria has been a gateway for shipping Iranian weapons to the militia.
Hezbollah has sent trainers and advisers to Syria to help Assad with his war against the Syrian opposition, U.S. officials say, and Syrian opposition officials report that Hezbollah fighters are also involved in the conflict.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined Friday night to comment on the Israeli attack, which was first reported by CNN, saying only in a statement, “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
The Israeli attack came as the Obama administration — as part of its examination of possible responses to obtaining conclusive proof that Assad has used chemical weapons — is considering military options with allies. Those options include attacking Syria’s anti-aircraft systems, military aircraft and some of its missile fleet, according to senior officials from several countries.
Those officials say that attacking the chemical stockpiles directly has been all but ruled out. “You could cause exactly the disaster you are trying to prevent,” a senior Israeli military official said in an interview last week in Tel Aviv.
But attacking Assad’s main delivery systems, the officials say, would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. “This wouldn’t stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah,” said one European official who has been involved in the conversations, “but it would limit the damage greatly.”
The topic was alluded to Thursday when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about “the need for new options” if Assad uses his chemical arsenal, the officials said.