Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday admitted his military’s air defense system failed to intercept a Syrian missile, which landed dangerously close to the nation’s central nuclear facility in the southern Israeli city of Dimona.
“We’re looking into it,” Gantz said of the long-range missile that struck early Thursday morning. “Usually we see different results, this is a slightly more complex incident, but we’ll keep investigating.”
The errant missile – a Soviet SA-5 model – reportedly was launched during an overnight Israeli airstrike near Damascus.
After escaping an Israeli interceptor, the missile landed in open territory near the Abu Qrenat village in Israel’s Negev desert, less than 20 miles from the heavily fortified nuclear reactor complex at Dimona, causing no damage or casualties.
Israel retaliated by targeting the missile’s launch pad and nearby military targets.
“A surface-to-air missile was fired from Syria to Israel’s southern Negev,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said in a statement sent to The Media Line. “An initial inquiry showed that a successful interception was not carried out. In response, we struck the battery from which the missile was launched and additional surface-to-air batteries in Syria.”
The anti-aircraft missile in all likelihood tracked the Israeli planes as they were exiting Syrian airspace through Jordan toward their home base in the south
Residents of small towns and Bedouin villages near Dimona were jolted out of bed just before 2 a.m. on Thursday by loud sirens, and moments later reported hearing thunderous blasts that reached as far as the southern suburbs of Jerusalem.
The fact that a stray projectile fired from a neighboring enemy state could find its way safely to Israeli ground some nearly 200 miles away will demand a thorough investigation by Israeli security officials, experts said Thursday.
“The anti-aircraft missile in all likelihood tracked the Israeli planes as they were exiting Syrian airspace through Jordan toward their home base in the south” of Israel, Ami Rojkes Dombe, a defense and technology analyst and editor at Israel Defense magazine, told The Media Line.
“Apparently it overshot them, and finally ran out of fuel and blew up in midair,” he added.
According to Syria’s state news agency SANA, the initial Israeli airstrike that kicked off the rare turn of events injured four Syrian soldiers.
“Our military operated against critical assets in order to prevent potential attacks against Israel” before the anti-aircraft missile was launched by Syria, Gantz confirmed on Thursday.
Thursday’s incident was not Israel’s first encounter with the SA-5 Gammon missile.
In February 2018, after intercepting an Iranian-built drone that had crossed the Syrian border into its territory, Israeli fighter jets launched an attack on Syria’s T-4 airbase. The base’s air defense batteries fired over 20 SA-5 missiles at the planes, ultimately hitting one.
The downed jet’s two-man crew managed to eject over Israeli territory.
Over the past few years, Israel’s air force reportedly has conducted hundreds of air raids against Iranian military targets based in Syria.
Jerusalem has repeatedly stated it views attempts by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is spread throughout the Middle East, to entrench itself near its eastern border as a grave national security threat.
Recent days have seen a marked escalation in the shadow war between Israel and Iran.
Unnamed Israeli intelligence officials recently told The New York Times that Israeli special agents were behind the mysterious power outage at the Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran earlier this month, causing extensive damage to the site which had only recently installed advanced centrifuges.
Tehran quickly responded by upping its uranium enrichment from 20% to 60% purity, a significant breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal it reached with world powers in 2015.
Iran and the United States are currently conducting indirect talks in Vienna regarding a mutual return to compliance with the abandoned deal.
Over the past few months, Israel and Iran also have been engaged in a back-and-forth naval clash, with Jerusalem attacking Iranian vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea suspected of delivering oil and weapons to Syria, and the Islamic Republic targeting Israeli-owned cargo ships in the Gulf.