Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon Tuesday, July 16, contradicted US claims that Israeli air strikes of July 5 were responsible for destroying Russian-made Yakhont SS-N-26 anti-ship missiles stored at the Syrian port town of Latakia.. Wiped out too were the system’s radar. The claims by Pentagon and other US officials were widely published by American and British media and Syrian rebel outlets. Yaalon spoke while visiting a defense plant near Acre.
Israel has consistently abstained from commenting on reports of this kind, ever since, six years ago, US administration officials named Israel as having demolished the North Korean-built plutonium reactor in northern Syria.
Neither does Jerusalem normally deny such reports – at all events, not until Tuesday, when the minister delivered Israel’s first comment on the Latakia episode. This deliberate denial is all the more striking given the wide media mileage of the American version, which looked like a move to draw Israel into involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an interview to CBS TV declined to answer questions on the Latakia incident, only asserting that Israel stands by its policy of preventing advanced weapons reaching Syria from falling in to the hands of the Lebanese Hizballah.
So, clearly, in the last two days, official Israeli tactics appear to have shifted from non-response to denial. The defense minister also reiterated a point he has made before, that Israel is not involved in the Syrian civil war but reserved the right to hit back for any cross-border Syrian fire against its territory.
All the same, at around the same time as he spoke, 25 shells landed in the center of Israeli Golan as new fighting erupted between the Syrian army and rebel fighters around the town of Quneitra. Yet there was no sign he had ordered the IDF to respond.