Israel had launched military actions against Syria to thwart direct threats against Israel's security, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Sunday, referring to alleged Israeli air strikes on the Israeli-Syrian border and near the capital Damascus over the past months.
The unusual confirmation came after rebels posted videos showing armed rebels, among them al-Qaida-inspired forces, gaining control of a number of long-range Scud missile depots in Syria's eastern city of Deir al-Zour and near Aleppo.
"Israel does not intervene in the bloody civil war taking place in Syria. We are monitoring developments and currently we don't view them as a threat," Ya'alon told Army Radio on Sunday morning.
But "When we identified a threat, we acted -- along the border and also in other places ... we'll maintain this policy in the future," the minister said in an implicit reference to Israeli air strikes in January, which reportedly targeted an arms convoy allegedly carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Commenting on a number of stray mortar rounds that landed in the Israeli-controlled southern Golan Heights on Saturday, Ya'alon said, "Residents of the area can continue their lives [with a sense] of security because the army is prepared to protect them."
An Arab media report said the Syrian military has an arsenal of 400 Scuds with ranges that vary from 180 to 700 km. According to it, some of the missiles can be armed with non-conventional payloads, including chemical and biological warheads.
Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported Sunday that Israel mostly fears Syria's stocks of M-600 long-range, high-precision missiles that can strike deep inside the Jewish state.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to retaliate for an alleged Israeli attack in January against a military research center outside Damascus, reportedly used to develop chemical weapons.
In a televised interview with The Sunday Times, aired in London late Saturday, Assad said that while Syria has always reacted to Israeli actions, the response to its latest presumed aggression will not necessarily entail overt military actions.
"We retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean," Assad said.
"Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced," he said.