(AFP) – Sep 16, 2007
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel boasted on Sunday it has recovered its "deterrent capability" after an air strike in Syria triggered warnings of retaliation and intense media speculation over the aim of the operation.
"The new situation affects the entire region, including Iran and Syria," military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told parliament's powerful foreign affairs and defence committee, local media reported.
In keeping with an official Israeli wall of silence on the event, Yadlin told lawmakers he would not address the incident directly, but his statements "alluded to the Israeli raid," public radio reported.
He said Israel had now recovered its "deterrent capability" following the 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Syria angrily denied as US "lies" suggestions that it was receiving nuclear material from North Korea, after foreign media reports that Israel's warplanes could have been targeting a possible joint nuclear project.
Damascus said its air defences fired on Israeli warplanes which had dropped munitions deep inside its territory in the early hours of September 6, and it has protested to the UN Security Council.
Tsahi Hanegbi, head of the Israeli foreign affairs and defence committee, earlier said the government has adopted a policy of silence over the incident to ease tensions, but was taking Syrian threats of retaliation seriously.
"We have to show restraint and it is in our interest to say nothing... This policy has proven itself. The tensions have slightly eased since 12 days ago. The more we bite our tongue, the better it will go," he told public radio.
He said the tensions with Syria were a direct result of the bloody war between Israel and the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah in Lebanon last year that was regarded by many in Israel as a failure.
"The Syrians had the impression that we were in a state of weakness and they threw themselves into an unprecedented campaign of arms purchases," Hanegbi said.
Amid the silence from both Israel and Syria over the incident, alleged details of the strike have come in foreign media reports quoting anonymous officials, with two leading hypotheses emerging.
One says that Israel bombed weapons destined for Hezbollah and financed by another archfoe, Iran. The other says that the incident was related to a suspected nuclear shipment from communist North Korea to Syria.
But Syria's official Ath-Thawra newspaper dismissed the North Korea allegations, saying they were being bandied about as a possible pretext for further attacks.
"Members of the choir have started up a new song that is full of hostility, this time about Syrian-Korean nuclear cooperation," Ath-Thawra said. "This is a big lie... Syria is used to having to put up with such lies."
"This is nothing new, accusing Syria of things that it has nothing to do with... But what is new is the scope of the new lie and the way it is being peddled," said Ath-Thawra.
"The latest accusation could be a prelude to more attacks on Syria."
The Washington Post on Saturday quoted an anonymous Middle East expert as saying the "attack appeared to have been linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying material from North Korea labelled as cement."
The ship allegedly arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus and "the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment," it said.
A senior North Korean diplomat also dismissed the reports. "They often say things that are groundless," Kim Myong-Gil, the North's deputy UN mission chief, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Washington for decades has accused North Korea, which carried out a nuclear weapons test in October 2006, of weapons proliferation and has charged Syria with bankrolling militant groups in the Middle East.
Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad warned on Friday that Damascus could retaliate after the strike.
Hanegbi, meanwhile, said Israel was taking seriously all threats by its northern neighbour, with the two states still officially in a state of war. Peace talks broke down in 2000 over the fate of the Israeli-occupied Golan.
"Israel is taking these threats seriously, past experience has taught us that aggressive declarations by Syrian leaders are sometimes followed by acts," he said.
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