Jerusalem – A Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed in southern Israel early Thursday, setting off air raid sirens near the country’s top-secret nuclear reactor, the Israeli military said. In response, it said it attacked the missile launcher and air-defense systems in neighboring Syria.
Israeli media later described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel. The army said an initial investigation showed that had failed to intercept the surface-to-air missile from Syria.
Israeli officials would not confirm the condition of the missile when it landed or the exact location, but it was believed to have exploded before it hit the ground. Israeli news outlets said the missile fell only about 19 miles from Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, and that the military was investigating the failure of its defense systems to intercept the projectile.
Israel has repeatedlyin recent years, including at military targets linked to foes and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Such strikes routinely draw Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Thursday’s exchange was unusual because the Syrian projectile landed deep inside Israel.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said the exchange began with an Israeli air strike on Dumeir, a suburb of the capital of Damascus. Dumeir is believed to house Syrian army installations and batteries as well as bases and weapons depots belonging to Iran-backed militias. SANA said four soldiers were wounded.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group based in Britain that tracks Syria’s civil war, said the Israeli strikes hit an air defense base belonging to the Syrian military and destroyed air defense 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 Israeli military described the projectile that landed near the nuclear site as a surface-to-air missile, which is usually used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles. That could suggest the Syrian missile had targeted Israeli warplanes but missed and flew off errantly. However, Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, is some 185 miles south of Damascus, a long range for an errantly fired surface-to-air missile.
Air raid sirens rang out in Abu Krinat, a village just a few miles from Dimona. Apparent missile fragments were found in a swimming pool in Ashalim, a community about 19 miles southwest of Dimona, and images purportedly showing the pieces were on social media. Israeli troops soon arrived at the scene and collected the fragments.
The military said that in response to the incoming missile, it launched an airstrike at the battery that launched the anti-aircraft missile and other surface-to-air batteries in Syria.
The exchange between Israel and Syria comes against the backdrop of growing tensions between Israel and Iran, a key ally of Syria. Iran, which maintains troops and proxies in Syria, has accused Israel of a series of attacks on its nuclear facilities, including sabotage at its Natanz nuclear facility on April 11, and vowed revenge.
The volley of missiles will also further complicate U.S.-led attempts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran.