By Sharona Schwartz
Israel Channel 2 broadcast this satellite image showing a Damascus airport warehouse before and after the airstrike (Screenshot: Channel 2 News)
The Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press reporters’ phone recordswas reportedly one element of a “sweeping” federal investigation to find out who leaked classified information about a failed Al-Qaeda plot to bomb an American airliner.
Now, the Obama administration has reportedly apologized to Israel for another leak of classified information to the media, one that occurred earlier this monthand which Israeli officials are concerned could place Israeli lives at risk.
Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent Chico Menashe reported Sunday morning (via the Jerusalem Post ):
American officials apologized to their Israeli counterparts for confirming that Israel was behind the airstrikes on the Damascus airport earlier this month, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
The confirmation reportedly came from the lower ranks at the Pentagon, and the reasons for the leak are being investigated.
Menashe tweeted : “The U.S. has apologized to Israel for leaking details of the attack in Syria. Senior administration officials said to their [Israeli] counterparts that they are examining the issue and that low-level [officials] were responsible for the leak.“
Menashe also wrote, “US officials told that they [will] review the matter. The leak forced Assad to react harshly.”
The New York Times attributed its report about the bombing on May 3 to an Obama administration official: “Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.“
CNN, which broke the story first on May 3, quoted two unnamed U.S. officials:
The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, two U.S. officials first told CNN.
U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.
One official said the United States had limited information so far and could not yet confirm those are the specific warplanes that conducted a strike.Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes.
Two weeks later, Israel still has not officially taken responsibility for the bombings, which allegedly targeted Iranian Fateh-110 missiles intended to bolster Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Israeli security analysts suggest that confirmation of Israel Defense Forces involvement – even if leaked via American sources – not only could potentially endanger any agents still on the ground in Syria, but would also put pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad to retaliate against the Jewish state.
Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, told TheBlaze, “It requires the Syrians to react officially rather than deny that it happened or that it was an accident. It forces Syria and Hezbollah and Iran to react officially and say they want to seek revenge, which makes things more dangerous for Israel.”
“Can you imagine if things were reversed and somebody did that to the U.S.?” he added.
Assad may already be responding. Britain’s Sunday Times reported that the Syrian military has placed advanced weapons on standby to strike Israel, in the event Israel strikes targets again in Syria.
The report said that reconnaissance satellite images show Syria has surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles ready for use and aimed at Tel Aviv. Each can carry a half ton payload, according to the paper.
In an interview with CNN shortly after the airstrikes, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad called the attack a “declaration of war,” adding that Syria would retaliate in its own time and way.
At the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the tumult facing the Middle East, calling it“one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria at its center.“
“We are closely monitoring the developments and changes there and we are prepared for any scenario. The government of Israel is working responsibly and with determination and sagacity, in order to ensure the supreme interest of the state of Israel – the security of Israeli citizens in keeping with the policy that we have set, to – as much as possible – prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and to [other] terrorist elements,” he said.
“We will work to ensure Israelis’ security interest in the future as well,” Netanyahu added.
Last week, Russia said it would move forward with a sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, after Netanyahu made a visit to Moscow in person to try to convince the Russians to halt the deal. Once deployed, the advanced system will make future Israeli sorties over Syria more difficult, as well as rendering any notion of a U.S. or European-led no-fly zone much more complicated to implement.