Reuters initially reported the airstrike, which was later confirmed by a Stratfor source. Four Israeli aircraft entered Lebanese airspace around 4:30 p.m. the evening of Jan. 29, but were relieved four hours later by other aircraft. Then at 2 a.m. the next day, these aircraft were replaced by yet another group, which remained in Lebanese airspace until about 8 a.m.
The duration of the operation is significant. The Israelis clearly anticipated a target to appear in a specific window of time; bombing a fixed target would not necessitate a prolonged mission. The revelations of SA-17s notwithstanding, the target of the attack remains unconfirmed. Leaks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office indicate that the government has been anxiously monitoring potential chemical weapons traffic into Lebanon, a haven for Hezbollah militants. Israel's anxiety may be justified: On Jan. 28, Ynet reported that Hezbollah had established several bases in Syria near suspected Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles.
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In addition to chemical weapons, Israel also fears the transfer of advanced conventional weapons, ranging from advanced anti-tank guided missiles and man-portable air defense systems to various types of artillery systems and larger vehicle-mounted surface-to-air missile systems. Such systems could jeopardize the Israeli air force's ability to conduct operations in the region, according to an air force spokesperson. If the reports were true that the convoy carried SA-17s, the airstrike would validate some of Israel's concerns