Military acknowledges that air defences failed to intercept surface-to-air missile fired overnight.
Israel has acknowledged that its air defences failed to intercept a missile fired from Syria overnight that traversed 125 miles of its highly protected airspace and landed near its secretive Dimona nuclear reactor.
The surface-to-air missile was believed to have been fired by Syrian air defences against Israeli jets that were bombing a site near Damascus, but the path it flew initially led to speculation that Israel’s most sensitive site may have instead been a target.
The defence minister, Benny Gantz, claimed the missile had landed in Israel as a result of errant Syrian anti-aircraft fire. In doing so he raised concerns about the effectiveness of his country’s vaunted air defence capabilities, which have been entrusted to counter such threats.
Gantz said Israel’s anti-missile systems had attempted to intercept the SA-5 but were unsuccessful. “In most cases we achieve other results. This is a slightly more complex case. We will investigate it and move on,” he said
The incident follows the publication of an analysis in an Iranian newspaper at the weekend that called for the Dimona reactor to be targeted to avenge an apparent Israeli sabotage operation at the Natanz nuclear site in Iran a fortnight ago.
Syria is a staunch ally of Iran, and Iranian forces use Syrian territory to stockpile weapons to supply to its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. However, despite hundreds of Israeli attacks targeting Iranian interests, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has remained reluctant to launch offensive attacks against Israel, fearing his war-ravaged country could be drawn into a broader conflict with a technically superior foe. Directly firing a large missile at Dimona could have been a trigger for such an escalation.
Instead, Israeli officials claim that the impact of the missile was likely to have been inadvertent, and are now focusing on how its various defence systems failed to intercept it. The missile landed around 20 miles short of the Dimona site, in Israel’s Negev desert.
Israel has some of the most tightly protected airspace in the world and has shot down drones and missiles at various points over the past decade, including during a similar incident in early 2017 in which one Syrian missile downed an Israeli jet and another landed in the country’s north.
Air raid sirens sounded at about 1.30am in Abu Krinat, a village in Israel’s desert. Security sources said the projectile exploded in mid-air – a common technique used by anti-aircraft missiles to guarantee they hit jets – and that fragments landing on the ground.
Israel’s military said its forces responded to the missile by bombing the “battery from which the missile was launched and additional Syrian surface-to-air batteries in the area”.
With tensions already high with Iran, Israel may be seen as wanting to play down any attempted attack or risk a confrontation. Still, Israel has in the past been quick to blame Syria or Iran for other alleged strikes, including when it accused Iranian forces of firing rockets at its troops in 2018.
Israel and Iran have fought an increasingly open war across the region in the past three years, with more than 1,000 airstrikes inside Syria and Iraq, missiles fired, and mines placed by both sides against commercial shipping, and the assassination of Iranian nuclear officials, which western intelligence agencies have blamed on Israel.