Syrian Anti-aircraft Missile Explodes in Southern Israel, IDF Strikes Near Damascus

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Airstrike in Syria, 2019.
Airstrike in Syria, 2019. Credit: SANA / AP

An anti-aircraft missile launched by Syria toward an Israeli jet exploded near Dimona in southern Israel overnight between Wednesday and Thursday. An attack was also carried out overnight near Damascus, which Syria has attributed to Israel.

The IDF confirmed in a statement that a Syrian SA5 missile was fired toward one of its aircrafts, but overflew its target. The Israeli Air Force tried to shoot down the missile but the interceptor failed to down it – and the AA missile eventually landed near Dimona

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The army believes that the Syrian missile was not intended to strike Dimona, nor the nuclear reactor located there. Fragments were located in Ramat Negev Regional Council, but it is not yet if they belonged to the anti-aircraft missile or the interceptor. 

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The army said it had attacked Syrian missile batteries in response as well as other military targets in neighboring Syria.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency also reported that four soldiers were wounded in an Israeli strike near Damascus, which also caused some damage. The agency did not elaborate other than to claim its air defense intercepted “most of the enemy missiles,” which it said were fired from the Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that one of them, a first lieutenant in the regime forces, was killed in the strike, which they said hit an air base east of Damascus.

Shrapnel in the yard of a home in Ashalim.Credit: Sonia Revivo
Shrapnel in the yard of a home in Ashalim.Credit: Sonia Revivo

A Syrian military defector said the Israeli strikes targeted locations near the town of Dumair, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Damascus, where Iranian-backed militias have a presence. It is an area hit repeatedly in past Israeli attacks.

The SA5 missile triggered sirens in the Bedouin town of Abu Qrenat dear Dimona. A Reuters reporter about 90 km (56 miles) away from Abu Qrenat heard the sound of an explosion minutes before the military's text message. In Israel, sounds of the explosion were heard as far away as Jerusalem and Modiin.

Sonia Revivo of Ashalim found fragments of the rocket in her back yard. "I heard it at night because I was up with the baby, I heard a loud boom. I waited a little and went out to see what fell, but I couldn't find it," she said. "In the morning my husband called me outside and we saw pieces of the rocket. It's scary, my husband works out in the yard until nighttime, there was no warning, there was nothing."

Revivo added that they found one large fragment with several smaller ones beside it, made of iron. She said they called the police, who arrived with a bomb squad to remove the fragments.

Addressing the likelihood of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile overshooting its target and flying a long distance into Israel, Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert, said the scenario was "consistent with the characteristics" of an SA-5.

"The trajectory of a stray anti-aircraft missile on an unintended descent is very tricky to track," he told Reuters.

"Israel's air defense systems are in theory capable of carrying out such an interception with proper preparation, but it would be at the edge of the capability envelope."

Had the Syrians wanted to attack Dimona, he said, they could have used bigger weapons in their arsenal, such as Scud missiles.

Israeli media have said for weeks that air defenses in the area of Dimona and the Red Sea port Eilat were being beefed up in anticipation of a possible long-range missile or drone attack by Iranian-backed forces – perhaps from as far away as Yemen.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the missile strike or comment from Iran. But on Saturday, Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper published an opinion piece by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei suggesting Israel’s Dimona facility be targeted after the attack on Natanz. Zarei cited the idea of “an eye for an eye” in his remarks.

Action should be taken “against the nuclear facility in Dimona,” he wrote. “This is because no other action is at the same level as the Natanz incident."

In Israel, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman took the opportunity to comment on the domestic political deadlock, stating there is "no functioning government, and the power of the deterrence is spent."

"Netanyahu is asleep at the wheel because he is busy with his personal affairs," he said, and called on the Knesset to "end the paralysis."

Earlier this month, Israel carried out a missile attack near the Syrian capital of Damascus and its southern suburbs killing at least three pro-Iranian fighters, a war monitor reported.

The strikes targeted an arms depot in an area manned by the Iran-allied Lebanese Hezbollah movement, totally destroying the facility, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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