Israel's military strike on a target inside Syria provoked a furious reaction yesterday, with Russia accusing the government in Jerusalem of a "gross violation of the UN charter" and Syria threatening a "surprise" attack in retaliation.
Last night Syria summoned the head of the UN's observer force in the Golan Heights to complain about the strike, in which Israeli jets blew up what US officials claim was a convoy of anti-aircraft missiles. Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, said the Assad regime had "the option and the capacity" to hit back, while Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian reportedly warned of "significant implications" for the coastal city of Tel Aviv. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah described the attack as an act of "barbaric aggression".
What exactly happened on Tuesday is disputed, with Syria claiming that the strike hit the Jamraya military research facility close to Damascus, killing two people. This version of events has been questioned, particularly as state television has not shown footage of damage to the site. Western sources claim the convoy was attacked en route to Lebanon, implying that the weapons were intended for Hezbollah.
Russia - a staunch ally of the Syrian government - said: "If [the Israeli strike] is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it."
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, above, and other senior government figures have repeatedly voiced their concerns about Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons - specifically Sarin gas and the VX nerve agent - being transferred to Hezbollah for use against the Jewish state. Israel has stated that the transfer of such weaponry to the group would not be tolerated.
In 2007 Israeli planes bombed a site in Deir Ezzor, Syria, which the UN had said it suspected of being a nuclear facility, while four years earlier it targeted a camp suspected of training Palestinian militants on Syrian soil.
Syria's contention that Israel's target was in fact Jamraya - a frequent target of rebel attacks - may be an attempt to associate the rebels with Israel in the hope of stoking anti-Israeli sentiment among Assad's supporters.
By Loveday Morris
The fog of Syria's war has rarely been thicker. With Israel still tight-lipped over just what its jet planes targeted when they swooped into Syria, two differing narratives have emerged.
The first, from US sources, is that the warplanes bombed a convoy transferring SA-17 air defence systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has repeatedly stated that the transfer of such "game-changing" weaponry would not be tolerated.
The second narrative, from the Syrian state, contends that Israel's target was a scientific research centre in Jamraya "aimed at raising the level of resistance and self-defence". As Jamraya has been a frequent target, Damascus has taken the opportunity to paint the rebels and Israel being on the same side. For the regime this sounds better than admitting it has weapons convoys passing arms to Hezbollah, a scenario that is hardly unlikely given that a well-armed ally in neighbouring Lebanon would be an invaluable asset to Assad.
It remains possible of course that both versions bear truth. However, through the fog, the action paves the way for a dangerous new escalation.