Syrian missile detonates near Israeli nuclear reactor, Israel retaliates

JERUSALEM – A missile launched from Syria was fired at southern Israel early Thursday and set 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.

The incident, which marked one of the worst forms of violence between Israel and Syria in years, pointed to possible Iranian involvement.

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 has vowed revenge. The attack also threatened to complicate US-led efforts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran.

The Israeli military said it deployed a missile defense system but could not confirm whether the incoming missile had been intercepted, although it said no damage had been done. Air-raid alarms sounded in Abu Krinat, a village just a few miles from Dimona, the Negev desert city where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.

Explosions that could be heard all over Israel may have been the air defense systems.

The Israeli military initially described the fired weapon as a surface-to-air missile, usually used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles. That could indicate that the Syrian missile had aimed at Israeli fighters, but missed and flew flawlessly. However, Dimona is about 300 kilometers south of Damascus, a long distance for a surface-to-air missile.

Israeli soldiers search for debris after a missile launched from Syria landed near the Dimona nuclear site in Israel’s southern Negev desert on April 22, 2021.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP – Getty Images

The state-run SANA news agency said four soldiers were injured in an Israeli attack near Damascus, which also caused some damage. The agency did nothing but claim that its air defense intercepted “most of the enemy missiles” it said had been fired from the Golan Heights annexed by Israel.

There was no immediate claim to responsibility for the missile strike, or comment from Iran.

But on Saturday, Iranian newspaper Kayhan published an op-ed by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei suggesting that Israel’s Dimona facility would be targeted after the attack on Natanz. Zarei cited the idea of ​​”an eye for an eye” in his comments.

Action 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 generally believed to be the centerpiece of an undeclared nuclear weapons program. Israel neither affirms nor denies having a nuclear arsenal.

Although Kayhan is a limited edition, its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and described in the past as an adviser to him.

Zarei has demanded retaliation against Israel in the past. In November, he suggested that Iran attack the Israeli port city of Haifa over Israel’s alleged 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 arch enemies.

Israel has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and has opposed US-led attempts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran. With Israel’s encouragement, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

Iran has recently begun to enrich a small amount of uranium to a purity of 60 percent, the highest level ever for its program that comes even closer to the level of weapons quality. Iran, however, maintains that its program is for peaceful purposes. It has also called for more international investigation of the Dimona 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 preparing possible attack missions against Iranian targets. Israel has twice bombed other countries in the Middle East to target their nuclear programs.

All incidents come as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over the US who may re-enter its torn nuclear deal with world powers. Negotiators there have described the talks as constructive so far, though they acknowledge that Natanz’s sabotage could weigh on the talks.

The Israeli government says the deal will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capacity. It also says it does not address Iran’s long-range missile program and its support for hostile proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.