An anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria exploded in the air over northern Israel early Wednesday morning, setting off warning sirens in the town of Umm al-Fahm and communities in the northern West Bank, the army said.
Residents reported hearing a loud explosion in the area. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
“A launch was identified from Syrian territory toward Israel. The missile exploded in the air and as such there was no need to carry out an interception,” the Israel Defense Forces said.
Shrapnel landed near the Homesh outpost, causing a small fire, according to Rescuers Without Borders, a Jewish emergency service operating in the West Bank
The anti-aircraft missile had apparently been fired in response to an Israeli airstrike on sites near Damascus. Syrian state media SANA said the country’s air defenses “confronted an Israeli aggression” near Damascus. The targets of the Israeli strike were not immediately known.
The IDF said that in response to the Syrian anti-aircraft missile entering Israeli airspace, Israel struck several Syrian air defense batteries inside Syria, including the “Syrian radar and anti-aircraft batteries that launched missiles at IAF aircraft.”
“The IDF will continue to protect Israel’s airspace and security,” the military’s statement said.
A later SANA report, citing military sources, said one soldier was killed and five wounded in the Israeli strikes.
It said that Israel had carried out two separate strikes, with jets firing missiles from southeast of Beirut in neighboring Lebanon. About 15 minutes later, a second barrage of surface-to-surface rockets was fired from the Golan Heights toward targets in the Damascus region, the report said.
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“Our air defenses have confronted the aggressor’s missiles and shot down some of them,” the report said, adding that in addition to the casualties, the strikes caused “material damage.”
Analysts generally dismiss such claims of shooting down Israeli missiles — heard after nearly every airstrike — as empty boasts.
Reports from Lebanon said that Israeli jets were seen in the skies at the time of the incident.
There was no comment from the IDF on the alleged initial strikes, in line with its policy of ambiguity regarding its activities in Syria.
The IDF has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria over the past decade in response to efforts by Iran to establish a front against Israel there and to transfer weapons through the country to its proxies in the region, particularly the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist militia. Syrian, in turn, has fired thousands of anti-aircraft missiles at the raiding Israeli planes and incoming missiles, most of which either explode in mid-air or land out at sea. The Israeli Air Force takes the likelihood of heavy anti-aircraft fire into consideration when planning its raids, directing attacks from angles that would prevent Syrian missiles flying toward Israel.
In some cases, however, errant anti-aircraft missiles have failed to detonate or large fragments of them have been on trajectories toward populated areas in Israel or nearby countries, triggering air raid sirens and occasionally causing light damage. Indeed, such missiles have hit Israel before, and others have landed in Lebanon and Jordan, causing damage. One once even landed in Cyprus, where it caused a wildfire.
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In April of last year, a Syrian missile exploded in mid-air after crossing much of Israel’s airspace and eventually sent fragments crashing down, with pieces landing in the community of Ashalim, some 40 kilometers from the nuclear reactor in Dimona, without causing injuries or significant damage.
An IDF attempt to intercept that missile failed.
Israel’s alleged use of surface-to-surface missiles — in place of munitions fired from aircraft — has been linked to a recent meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s main allies, who has supplied much of Damascus’s air defense system. To avoid embarrassing Russia and its military technology, Israel reportedly agreed to rely less on airstrikes, which had repeatedly defeated the Russian batteries.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Many of the strikes in the past had targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus, through which Iran is also believed to transfer advanced arms to its proxies.
Israel has acknowledged that it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-allied terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups.
Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Assad’s forces in his country’s decade-long civil war.