Israel launches airstrike against Lebanon-bound convoy in Syria

No incursion into Syrian airspace, sources indicate.

Israel has entered into the conflict in Syria, launching an airstrike against a convoy of Lebanon-bound weapons, according to officials from the country speaking on condition of anonymity.

Haaretz reports:

The officials said the shipment was not of chemical arms, but of "game changing" weapons bound for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. They say the airstrike was early Friday. They did not say where it took place.

CNN adds a crucial piece of context: the attack took place without an incursion into Syrian airspace. Barbara Starr, its Pentagon correspondent, writes:

Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes.

Haaretz confirms that the Israeli air force has what are referred to as "standoff" bombs, designed to coast low along the surface before hitting their targets, which could "in theory" allow Israel to attack Syria from Lebanon. Indeed, CNN reports that the Lebanese army claimed 16 flights by Iraeli warplanes penetrated Lebanon's airspace between Thursday and Friday.

It is the second time that Israel has hit Syria in recent months. The Guardian reports:

Israel bombed a convoy in Syria in January, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah, according to diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources in the region.

While Israel remains technically at war with Syria – having occupied the Golan Heights area of the country in 1967 and never signed a peace treaty since – the two nations have remained peaceful until recently. If, as Israeli officials claim, these are solely to do with the far more recent conflict with Lebanon, then the stakes in the Middle East have not changed substantially.

Update: An earlier version of this post mistakenly identified the source of the arms.

An Israeli fighter takes-off. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.