Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday admitted the attempt to shoot down a Syrian missile, which was fired hours earlier and exploded in mid-air near Israel’s nuclear reactor, was “unsuccessful.”
According to the IDF, the SA-5 surface-to-air missile was fired by Syrian forces against Israeli aircraft overnight but overflew its target to reach the Dimona area, 200 km (125 miles) south of the Syrian border. The missile did not hit the reactor, landing some 30 km (19 miles) away.
The Syrian missile exploded over the town of Ashalim, about 25 miles from the nuclear reactor in Dimona sending fragments crashing to the ground, The Times of Israel reported. No injuries or significant damage was reported.
“The IDF acted [in Syria] against assets, vital in launching a potential attack on the State of Israel,” the defense minister said, adding that in response, “SA-5 anti-aircraft missile was fired and crossed the border. There was an attempt to intercept it, but it was unsuccessful.”
Gantz said the IDF has launched an investigation to determine why the interception failed. “In most cases we see other outcomes, it’s a slightly more complex story. As I said, we will investigate and move forward.”
Later in the day, the head of American forces in the Middle East concurred that the projectile was an errant Syrian anti-aircraft missile.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said that the incident “reflects incompetence in Syrian air defense, where they were responding to Israeli strikes on targets in Syria. I do not believe it was an intentional attack but just rather [a] lack of capability.”
McKenzie quipped that the surface-to-air missile went “ballistic, literally.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group based in Britain that tracks Syria’s civil war, said the chain of events began when 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.
In retaliation for the missile launch, Israel carried out further overnight attacks inside Syria, targeting several missile batteries, including the one that fired the SA-5.
The war monitoring group added that one Syrian officer was killed in Israeli strikes and three others have been seriously wounded.
Yisrael Price contributed to this report.