A Syrian missile exploded in southern Israel today, the Israeli military said, in an incident that triggered warning sirens near the secretive Dimona nuclear reactor and an Israeli strike in Syria, Reuters reports.
An Israeli military spokesman identified the projectile as an SA-5 surface-to-air missile fired by Syrian forces against Israeli aircraft. He said it overflew its target to reach the Dimona area, 200 kilometres south of the Syrian border.
The missile did not hit the reactor, landing some 30 kilometres away, the spokesman added.
In a further statement, the military said a preliminary investigation showed that Israel’s anti-missile systems had not carried out an interception of the projectile. Israeli security sources said the missile exploded in mid-air.
In response, Israel launched further overnight attacks inside Syria, the military spokesman said, targeting several missile batteries, including the one that fired the SA-5.
The sirens that sounded in the dead of night in the Dimona area followed weeks of heightened tension between Israel and Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, amid renewed negotiations surrounding Tehran’s nuclear programme.
For weeks, Israeli media have said air defences around the Dimona reactor and the Red Sea port of Eilat were being strengthened in anticipation of a possible long-range missile or drone attack by Iranian-backed forces, perhaps from as far away as Yemen.
Syria’s state news agency said the country’s air defence system intercepted an Israeli strike in the suburbs of Damascus.
“Air defences intercepted the rockets and downed most of them,” it said. Four soldiers were injured in the attack and there was some material damage, the report added.
A Syrian military defector said the Israeli strikes targeted locations near the town of Dumair, some 40 kilometres northeast of Damascus, where Iranian-backed militias have a presence. It is an area hit repeatedly in past Israeli attacks.
Addressing the likelihood of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile overshooting its target and flying a long distance into Israel, Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert, said the scenario was “consistent with the characteristics” of an SA-5.
“The trajectory of a stray anti-aircraft missile on an unintended descent is very tricky to track,” he told Reuters.
“Israel’s air defence systems are in theory capable of carrying out such an interception with proper preparation, but it would be at the edge of the capability envelope.”
Had the Syrians wanted to attack Dimona, he said, they could have used bigger weapons in their arsenal, such as Scud missiles.
“In 1991, Saddam Hussein tried to attack Dimona with a Scud, and that was from 600 km away,” he said.