STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's sort through what we know and do not know about Israel's reported airstrike on Syria. Syrian officials, the government of Bashar al-Assad, have affirmed that Israeli warplanes struck, although we have conflicting reports about what the target was. We're going to work through the information with NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Larry Abramson. Hi, Larry.
LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.
INSKEEP: What do you know, and how do you know it?
ABRAMSON: Well, some of this we know from confirmation by U.S. officials, who have acknowledged that there was some sort of military strike by Israel in Syria. What they struck and exactly where they struck, we don't really know. Syria says it was some sort of research facility. Other media reports say that it may have been a military convoy, possibly transporting weapons; but we're really not clear on that.
Russia has condemned this attack. Hezbollah, the militant group in southern Lebanon, also condemned the attack. And Israel has been completely silent on exactly what happened. They won't affirm or deny that anything happened at all.
INSKEEP: Let's just remind ourselves of the basics here. Why would Israel attack Syria in the first place? What's their concern about Syria?
ABRAMSON: Well, there have been concerns as the civil war in Syria continues - and there are, you know, more and more reports that the Assad regime may collapse - that his supply of weapons could get loose; that militant groups such as Hezbollah, which holds control of much of southern Lebanon, or al-Qaida-linked groups that have been fighting in Syria, could get hold of those weapons. One of the media reports indicated that the strike may have targeted a convoy transporting an anti-aircraft missile that Syria is known to have. So if this missile were to get in the hands of Hezbollah, that would allow them to target Israeli aircraft in southern Lebanon.
You know, if you think about it, Steve, Syria has been the last major military threat to Israel, now that they have a peace treaty with Jordan and with Egypt. And now that Syria may collapse, Hezbollah could become the biggest military threat in this region. They're much more powerful. They have tens of thousands of rockets, much more powerful than Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So Israel is very worried that the power may shift to Hezbollah, as it slips out of Bashar al-Assad's hands.
INSKEEP: So granting that the details of this strike remain uncertain, and that Israel itself has not commented on the strike, we do have a sense of a broad Israeli concern about what happens to Syrian weapons as that country becomes more chaotic. Now, what has the response been in Israel, to news of this strike?
ABRAMSON: There has been some attention, but I won't say there's been hysteria or panic, or anything like that. There are reports of increased demand for gas masks in the north of Israel. We also know that the Israeli military has moved its Iron Dome anti-missile battery up to the north. This is a missile system that was very effective against Hamas rockets from Gaza. The Israeli army says, however, that that was a routine redeployment, and wasn't targeted at the concern about Syria.
INSKEEP: Now, why would Israel not simply affirm that they conducted this airstrike?
ABRAMSON: Well, this is sort of a game that Israel has played for a long time - of not acknowledging attacks that have gone on there before. We don't know that they're doing this now. But much of the Arab world is allied against the Assad regime. If Israel were to get involved and take an active role in trying to secure the chemical weapons that they're worried about, it would make it much more uncomfortable for those Arab countries to maintain their unity with the United States, in trying to bring about the end of the Assad regime. So that's one good reason.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Larry Abramson, is tracking news of an Israeli airstrike on targets in Syria. Larry, thanks very much.
ABRAMSON: Thank you.
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