JERUSALEM – A missile launched from Syria was fired at southern Israel on Thursday, firing air-raid sirens near the country’s top-secret nuclear reactor, the Israeli military said. In response, he said he attacked the missile launcher and air defense systems in neighboring Syria.
The incident, marking one of the most serious violence between Israel and Syria in years, pointed to potential Iranian involvement.
Iran, which maintains troops and representatives in Syria, has accused Israel of a series of attacks on its nuclear facilities, including sabotage at its April 11 nuclear facility at Natanz, and has vowed revenge. The attack also threatened to complicate US-led attempts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran.
The Israeli army said it had deployed an anti-missile defense system, but could not confirm whether the missile was intercepted, although it said there was no damage. Air raid sirens sounded in Abu Krinat, a village a few kilometers from Dimona, the Negev desert city where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.
Explosions heard in Israel may have been air defense systems.
The Israeli military initially described the fired weapon as a surface-to-air missile, which is generally used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles. This could suggest that the Syrian missile targeted Israeli warplanes, but it missed and flew erratically. However, Dimona is about 185 miles south of Damascus, a long range for a surface-to-air missile.
Syrian state news agency SANA said four soldiers were wounded in an Israeli attack near Damascus, which also caused some damage. The agency did nothing more than claim that its air defense intercepted “most of the enemy missiles”, which it said were fired from the Golan Heights attached to Israel.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the missile attack, or comments from Iran.
But on Saturday, Iran’s hardline newspaper Kayhan published an opinion piece by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei suggesting that Dimona’s installation in Israel would be targeted after the attack on Natanz. Zarei cited the idea of an “eye for an eye” in his comments.
Actions must be taken “against the nuclear facility in Dimona,” he wrote. “This is because no other action is on the same level as the Natanz incident.”
The Dimona reactor is widely considered to be the centerpiece of an undeclared nuclear weapons program. Israel does not confirm or deny that it has a nuclear arsenal.
Although Kayhan is a small circulation newspaper, its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was appointed by supreme Ayatollah leader Ali Khamenei and has been described as his advisor in the past.
Zarei has demanded retaliatory attacks against Israel in the past. In November, he suggested that Iran attack the Israeli port city of Haifa because of suspected Israeli involvement in the murder of a scientist who founded Iran’s military nuclear program decades earlier. However, Iran did not retaliate then.
Israel and Iran are archenemies.
Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and opposes US-led efforts to reactivate the international nuclear deal with Iran. With Israel’s encouragement, then President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
Iran recently started enriching a small amount of uranium with up to 60 percent purity, the highest level in its program that comes even closer to weapon levels. However, Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes. He also called for more international scrutiny of Dimona’s facility.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and defense officials have acknowledged that they are preparing possible attack missions on Iranian targets. Israel twice bombed other nations in the Middle East to target its nuclear programs.
All the incidents take place while Iran negotiates in Vienna with world powers over whether the United States can enter its tattered nuclear deal with world powers again. Negotiators there have described the negotiations as constructive so far, although they recognize that Natanz’s sabotage could harm the negotiations.
The Israeli government says the deal will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. He also says he does not address Iran’s long-range missile program and its support for hostile representatives in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.