The head of American forces in the Middle East on Thursday supported the Israel Defense Forces’ assertion that it was an errant Syrian anti-aircraft missile that streaked across the country during the night, setting off sirens in southern Israel that were followed by loud explosions.
Speaking before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said 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 lack of capability.”
McKenzie joked that the surface-to-air missile went “ballistic, literally.”
The IDF said the missile had been fired at an Israeli jet during an airstrike on targets in the Syrian Golan Heights.
It triggered air raid sirens in the northern Negev in the area near Israel’s nuclear reactor in the predawn hours, followed by loud explosions that could be heard throughout much of the country.
There were no reports of injuries or damage.
IDF troops launched an interceptor missile at the incoming projectile to try to shoot it down, though it was not immediately clear if this was successful. The IDF said it was still investigating the matter on Thursday. The military refused to identify which of its air defense batteries was used.
IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman stressed that the military did not believe it was a deliberate attack on the country or its nuclear facility near the city of Dimona.
“There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Zilberman told reporters.
According to Zilberman, the projectile appeared to be a Russian-made SA-5 surface-to-air missile, a particularly large projectile, weighing several thousand kilograms with a 200-kilogram warhead.
In response to the launch of the surface-to-air missile, Israeli jets conducted a second round of airstrikes in Syria, bombing the battery that fired the projectile, as well as other air defense systems, the IDF said.
According to Syrian state media, four soldiers were injured in the Israeli strike and damage was caused.
The incident came amid peak tensions between Israel and Iran, after an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear site earlier this month, which has been widely attributed to the Jewish state. Iran has vowed to retaliate for the alleged Israeli sabotage.
Though uncommon, Syrian surface-to-air missiles fired at Israeli fighter jets have in the past caused damage and triggered sirens as they fell back to earth.
In 2019, an SA-5 missile that was fired at an Israeli aircraft landed in northern Cyprus, causing an explosion and a large fire in a village there.
In 2017, two SA-5 missiles that were launched at Israeli jets landed in eastern Israel, while a third landed in Jordanian territory, without causing injury or damage. In that incident, the IDF fired an Arrow 2 interceptor at the incoming projectile in what was the first operational use of the system.