WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain, who has long advocated for more forceful US support of the Syrian rebel movement, said Sunday that the two airstrikes just outside of the Syrian capital in recent days — which the Syrian government said were conducted by Israeli forces — would probably increase pressure on President Obama to act.
One reason, the Arizona Republican said on ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ was that the raids appear to weaken an argument that Syria has a far more daunting air defense system than, for example, Libya had under Moammar Khadafy.
“The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily,’’ he said.
Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby warned of serious repercussions from the reported Israeli attacks and called on the UN Security Council to ‘‘immediately move to stop the Israeli aggressions on Syria.’’
Five weeks ago, Elaraby capped a summit in Qatar with an impassioned appeal to strengthen the rebel fighters trying to bring down President Bashar Assad of Syria. But on Sunday, he denounced Israel’s airstrike into Assad’s territory as a violation of sovereignty and a dangerous threat to regional stability.
The strikes pose a dilemma for Arab states, nearly all of which have sided with the rebel forces seeking to topple Assad and inflict a blow to his main ally, Iran.
The White House declined for a second day to comment directly on the reported Israeli raids but said Obama believes Israel, as a sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself against threats from Hezbollah.
‘‘The Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including some long-range missiles,’’ said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He said the United States was in ‘‘close coordination’’ with Israel but would not elaborate.
Iran condemned the airstrikes, and a senior official hinted at possible retribution from Hezbollah. General Masoud Jazayeri, assistant to the Iranian chief of staff, told state television Tehran ‘‘will not allow the enemy to harm the security of the region.’’ He added that ‘‘the resistance will retaliate to the Israeli aggression against Syria.’’ “Resistance’’ is a term used for Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, another anti-Israel militant group.
President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt called the airstrikes a violation of international law and warned they complicate the Syrian war.
McCain said the United States is capable of disabling the Syrian air defenses on the ground ‘‘with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air’’ and using Patriot missile batteries to defend a safe zone to protect rebels and refugees. He has repeatedly urged such action.
Several lawmakers — including Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican and a member and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Representative C.A. ‘‘Dutch’’ Ruppersberger of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee — appeared on the Sunday talk shows and underscored an argument frequently heard from the administration: that arming the rebels carries a serious risk of lethal weapons ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda sympathizers, possibly even helping them seize control of the country.