Missile launched near Israeli nuclear site
Sent from Syria, exploded before reaching ground
• A missile launched from Syria flew into southern Israel early Thursday, triggering air raid sirens near a nuclear facility, according to the Israeli military, raising fears of an escalation in tensions between Israel, Syria and Iran.
The attack triggered Israel's air defence system and explosions from the exchange were reportedly felt by several Israeli communities near the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center. The military said the missile was not intercepted but exploded in mid-air.
An Israeli military official, briefing reporters overnight, said the Syrian missile was likely an errant attempt to hit one of its aircraft striking targets in the Syrian Golan Heights.
The nuclear facility — widely believed to be the seat of Israel's unacknowledged nuclear weapons program — is located in the Negev Desert community of Dimona, south of the Dead Sea. It's about 256 kilometres from the Golan border in Israel's far north, a long distance for a surface-to-air missile.
The IDF said it responded to the missile with retaliatory attacks against Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. The Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Israeli war planes attacked facilities near the capital Damascus shortly after 1:30 a.m.
The burst of rockets injured four soldiers and caused some material damage, SANA said, adding that defence missiles brought down most of the rockets — a standard claim after such attacks. There was no mention of any strike launched from Syria toward Israel.
The exchange came during an escalating confrontation between regional adversaries Israel and Iran, which controls militias in Syria and along with Russia is one of the main military backers of President Bashar al-assad. Israeli strikes against Iranian-backed targets in Syria have become increasingly common in recent months.
Earlier this month, Tehran vowed to retaliate after a suspected Israeli attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. Iranian officials said the attack involved an explosive device that caused a blackout at the facility and damaged centrifuges.
The bombing was the third time Iran's atomic program had been targeted in less than a year. An earlier explosion at Natanz, in July, damaged a centrifuge assembly plant. In November, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated in a brazen daytime ambush. Israel, which was widely suspected of carrying out both attacks, has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.
Rising hostilities between Iran and Israel have also played out at sea, in a series of tit-for-tat attacks on tankers and other vessels. The latest incident occurred in early April, when an Iranian-flagged vessel in the Red Sea was damaged by mines.