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Analysis: Israel may be ready for more active military role in Syria

Explosions shook Damascus just before 2 a.m. Sunday, and rebels in Syria said jets struck at least nine locations in close proximity, including a research center. Israel is now bracing for retaliation from the blasts. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

NEWS ANALYSIS

ANTAKYA, Turkey -- War makes strange bedfellows. President Bashar Assad’s regime is in the unique position of being targeted both by Israel and supporters of al Qaeda.

It is hard to imagine more a diverse couple: Sworn enemies fighting against the same government.

Israel carried out a series of attacks on military targets in Damascus early Sunday, close to President Assad’s main compound, US officials told NBC News. A rebel spokesman said about 10 locations had been hit, adding: “They shook all of Damascus. There was still smoke in the air as the sun came up.”

Witnesses said they heard low-flying jets in the air, but only after the explosions began.  Witnesses also claim to have heard jets in Lebanon shortly before the raid.  Israel has not confirmed it carried out any attack.

Syrian state TV blamed Israel, and said it was helping the rebels it calls terrorists.

An Israeli source said Sunday’s targets included Iranian-made missiles bound for Hezbollah.

The rebel spokesman in Damascus said the rebels’ “spirits were lifted” by the pre-dawn raid, and that they resumed “intense attacks” on the regime in the capital on Sunday morning.

While there is no evidence that Israel is coordinating with the Syrian opposition, both are worried about what could happen as the civil war spins further out of control.

Israel specifically does not want Syria to hand over weapons, chemical or conventional, to Hezbollah.

A group demonstrates outside of the White House gates Sunday, calling for action in Syria.

Both Hezbollah – which is based in Lebanon, just north of Israel - and Iran are allies of Bashar Assad.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a bloody war in 2006.  But Israel doesn’t fully back the rebels either, especially not a powerful contingent of Islamic radicals. 

Israel does not want the Nusra front, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, to obtain chemical weapons.  Neither does Washington.  Israel’s strategy thus far appears to be targeting threats as they come up and picking them off. 

If Israel sees weapons moving toward its border, it acts.  But many across the region are now wondering if this raid, larger in scale, is the start of a more active Israeli military role.  Has Israel decided that the longer the conflict drags on, the more risks there are regional stability?  Was this another surgical strike or the start of a new policy?  The answer may become clear in the coming days.

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