Israeli air defences fail to intercept missile from Syria that landed near nuclear plant

Israeli military says projectile was fired while Israel was conducting strikes in Syria

Israeli soldiers inspect a piece of debris after a missile launched from Syria landed in the vicinity of the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert. Photograph: Getty Images

Israeli soldiers inspect a piece of debris after a missile launched from Syria landed in the vicinity of the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Israeli military is examining how its air defences failed to intercept a surface-to-air missile fired from Syria that landed close to the Dimona nuclear reactor in southern Israel, the country’s most sensitive facility.

Initial reports said the projectile landed only 4km from the nuclear plant, but the closest pieces of debris were recovered some 30km away. The proximity to Dimona prompted speculation that Iranian forces or pro-Iranian militias based in Syria may have been behind the attack in an attempt to avenge Israel’s recent sabotage of Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant.

However, according to military analysts, if the Syrians had wanted to attack Dimona, which is 200km from the Syrian border, they would likely have used more powerful weapons in their arsenal, such as Scud missiles.

Israel said there was no damage despite an attempt to intercept the projectile.

“The Israel defence forces worked to prevent a potential strike on critical assets in the state of Israel. A SA-5-model of surface-to-air missile was fired,” said defence minister Benny Gantz. “There was an attempt to intercept it, which did not succeed.”

The Israeli military claimed the projectile was fired at the same time as Israel was conducting air strikes in southern Syria. and was not directed at a specific target inside Israel.

Residents of Jerusalem, 150km from Dimona, and at other locations in central Israel reported feeling an explosion but it is not clear if this was caused by the impact of the Syrian missile on the ground or by the failed interception attempt.

Israel frequently attacks Iran-linked targets in Syria, saying it is working to prevent what it terms Iranian military “entrenchment” in the country.

In response to the rocket firing, Israel said it attacked several missile batteries in Syria, including the one that fired the projectile that struck its territory.

Air defence system

Syria’s state news agency said the country’s air defence system intercepted Israeli rockets over the suburbs of Damascus “and downed most of them”.

According to Syrian media reports, a Syrian soldier was killed and three others injured.

The incident marked the most serious violence between Israel and Syria in recent years.

Israel’s military spokesman Hidai Zilberman downplayed the likelihood of a deliberate attack. “There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” he told reporters.

A senior US general also speculated that the incident was not intentional, but rather indicated a lack of Syrian air defence capability.

“I think it reflects actually incompetence in Syrian air defence... I do not believe it was an intentional attack,” marine general Kenneth McKenzie, head of US central command, said during a senate armed services committee hearing.