Israel says Syrian missile was misfire and not deliberate attack

Missile set off air raid sirens near Israel's top-secret nuclear reactor

File photo: A partial view of the Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Israeli Negev desert. AFP
File photo: A partial view of the Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Israeli Negev desert. AFP

The Israeli military on Thursday said a Syrian missile that reached deep into its territory and set off air-raid sirens near its top-secret nuclear reactor was a misfire, not a deliberate attack.

The missile landed in southern Israel early on Thursday, prompting Israel to respond with air strikes on the missile launcher and other targets in Syria.

The army’s chief spokesman, Brig Gen Hidai Zilberman, said the Israeli Air Force was already operating in Syrian airspace when the anti-aircraft missile was fired.

He said the projectile, identified as a Russian-made SA-5 missile, missed its target and exploded in southern Israel.

The missile, also known as an S200, set off sirens in a village near Dimona, the southern desert town site of Israel’s nuclear reactor about 300 kilometres south of Damascus.

“There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Brig Zilberman was quoted as saying.

An Israeli defence system tried but failed to intercept the missile.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the incident was under investigation.

In Washington, Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, gave a similar assessment to the Senate armed services committee on Thursday.

“I think it reflects, actually, incompetence in Syrian air defence, where they were responding to Israeli strikes on targets in Syria," Gen McKenzie said

"They fired their missiles, the missiles went ballistic, literally, and followed a parabolic trajectory to Israel.

“I do not believe it was an intentional attack, but just rather a lack of capability on the part of the Syrian air defenders.”

In recent years, Israel has repeatedly launched air strikes against Syria, including at military targets linked to Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Such strikes routinely draw Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Thursday’s exchange was unusual because the Syrian missile landed deep inside Israel.

The exchange began with an Israeli air strike on Dumeir, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, Syria’s state news agency Sana said.

Dumeir is believed to hold Syrian army installations and batteries, as well as bases and weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed militias. Sana said four soldiers were wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group in Britain, said the Israeli strikes hit an air defence base belonging to the Syrian military and destroyed batteries in the area.

It said the Syrian military fired surface-to-air missiles in response.

Syrian media made no mention of an anti-aircraft missile landing deep inside Israel.

The air raid sirens were sounded in Abu Krinat, a village near Dimona. Explosions heard across Israel might have been the air-defence systems.

Apparent missile fragments were found in a swimming pool in Ashalim, a community about 32km south-west of Dimona.

Israeli troops arrived at the scene and collected the fragments. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

The exchange between Israel and Syria comes against the backdrop of growing tensions between Israel and Iran, which has troops and proxies in Syria.

Iran has accused Israel of attacks on its nuclear facilities, including sabotage at its Natanz complex on April 11, and pledged revenge.

The exchange of fire also threatened to complicate US-led attempts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, to which Israel is deeply opposed.

Updated: April 23, 2021 01:48 AM

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