The latest development in the Syrian civil war does not involve the rebels at all. On Saturday, United States officials told NBC News that Israel had conducted airstrikes against targets inside Syria. The Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed these reports later on Saturday.
The conflict in Syria has grown immensely since initial demonstrations in March 2011 that kicked off a violent government crackdown and subsequent unrest in the Middle Eastern nation. This new airstrike from the Israeli military is a prime example of how the conflict has expanded beyond an internal matter to a major regional flashpoint as foreign governments weigh their options regarding the struggle.
The strike was aimed at a shipment of military equipment that was bound for Lebanon, according to the Israeli military. It is suspected that the shipment contained missiles being delivered to Hezbollah guerrillas in the region.
Israel has long stated that they reserve the right to engage in military action if they feel that advanced weapons from the Assad regime would make their way into the hands of those that Israel deems enemies. The strike resembles a similar action that the Israeli military undertook in February.
In that strike, Israel claimed that they were attacking a shipment of anti-aircraft weapons, including Russian-made SA-17 BUK-M2E medium surface-to-air missiles and their mobile launchers. Syria denies that the shipment of weapons was taking place. The previous attack also damaged the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, a research complex that American and Western intelligence sources claim is a training site for scientific personnel who attempt to produce chemical and biological weaponry.
Sources inside Syria back up the allegations of the Israeli military. A rebel from "The Syrian Islamic Masts Intelligence," an information-gathering unit from the Syrian capitol of Damascus, said that:
"There were three strikes by Israeli F-16 jets that damaged a convoy carrying anti-aircraft missiles heading to the Shi'ite Lebanese party (Hezbollah) along the Damascus-Beirut military road. One strike hit a site near the (Syrian) Fourth Armoured Division in al-Saboura but we have been unable to determine what is in that location."
The Israeli airstrikes come as the United States is weighing its options on how respond to the three-year ongoing conflict. President Barack Obama has repeatedly reiterated that placing American troops into the conflict zone is not an option, most recently on Friday. The possibility of airstrikes and cruise missile attacks by United States Navy, as was undertaken during the Libyan civil war, has repeatedly been suggest by various experts as a model of how the United States could escalate their support.
In reality, any engagement into the Syrian conflict beyond providing support to the rebels would have to be led by an international force, as was the case in Libya where a joint force of America, British, and French forces conducted the air offensive. But Russia, which has a naval base in Tartus, Syria, has said they would be opposed to an international intervention. Efforts to engage the Arab League to act as a vanguard for intervention have been met with little enthusiasm.
The desire for an international coalition clearly comes amid fears that a United States intervention would validate claims the Assad government has made about the insurgency being part of a foreign-backed overthrow of the government. But as concerns about chemical weapons and other drastic actions of the Syrian military against the civilian population grow, Washington and other Western countries find the pressure to come to consensus on a course of action increasing. What results is anyone's guess.