Lawmakers: Israeli strikes show Syrian air-defense vulnerability

Lawmakers from both parties on Sunday called for ramped up U.S. action in Syria after Israeli strikes appeared to easily penetrate the country's air-defense systems.

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U.S. military officials have pointed to those defenses to caution against the creation of no-fly zones similar to the NATO-enforced corridors that allowed rebel forces to gain the upper hand against Moamar Gadhafi in Libya two years ago. The alleged Israeli strikes – Israel has not confirmed its role – come amid increasing calls for a tougher U.S. response after the administration confirmed that Bashar Assad's have used chemical weapons, crossing President Obama's “red line.”

“I think the fact that they were able to go in there shows that perhaps [Syria's] Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as were said,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told NBC's "Meet the Press." He said he believed the administration is getting closer to arming vetted rebel groups.

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) echoed those sentiments.

“The Israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated that those Russian air-defense systems are not as robust as is sometimes reported,” he said. “We can stop Bashar Assad from killing his own people.”

“We have to arm the opposition. We also need toward imposing a no-fly zone so that Bashar Assad cannot continue to use helicopter gunships against civilians and so the refugees he's creating aren't destabilizing our allies like Jordan.”


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the same argument earlier on Fox News Sunday.

“The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily,” McCain said. “One thing I've learned about some of our military leaders: If they don't want to do something, they can invent lots of ways not to do it. The fact is, we are capable of taking out their air [defenses] on the ground with cruise missiles, cratering their runways.”

Syria called an alleged Israeli strike on a military research facility in Damascus a “declaration of war” on Sunday and vowed to retaliate. The Sunday morning attack is the second alleged Israeli strike in three days. Israeli air forces are believed to have struck at missiles being transferred to Hezbollah Islamist militants on the night of Thursday to Friday.

President Obama has said he's keeping all his options open if U.S. intelligence determines there's been “systematic use” of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but does “not foresee” deploying U.S. troops on the ground.