JERUSALEM – A rocket fired from Syria was fired into southern Israel early Thursday, dropping sirens from the air strike near the country’s secret nuclear reactor, the Israeli military said. In response, he said it had attacked the rocket launcher and air defense system in neighboring Syria.
The incident, which has been some of the most serious 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 retaliated. The attack also threatened to hamper US efforts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran.
The Israeli army said it had used a missile defense system but could not confirm whether the incoming missile had been intercepted, although it said there was no damage. The air raid sirens were sounded in Abu Krinat, a village just a few kilometers from Dimona, the Negev desert town where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located.
Explosions heard in Israel could be the air defense systems.
The Israeli military initially described the weapon as a surface-to-air missile, commonly used for air defense against warplanes or other missiles. This may indicate that the Syrian missile targeted Israeli warplanes but missed and flew incorrectly. However, Dimona is about 185 kilometers south of Damascus, a long distance for a surface-to-air missile.
The state-run SANA news agency of Syria said four soldiers were wounded in an Israeli attack near Damascus, which also caused damage. The agency did not go further than claiming that its air defense had intercepted ‘most enemy missiles’, which they said had been fired from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the missile attack or comments from Iran.
But on Saturday, the hard-hitting newspaper Kayhan in Iran published an opinion piece by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei who suggested that Israel’s Dimona plant should be targeted after the attack on Natanz. Zarei mentions the idea of ”an eye for an eye” in his remarks.
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.”
It is widely believed that the Dimona reactor is the center of an unexplained nuclear weapons program. Israel does not confirm or deny that it has a nuclear arsenal.
While Kayhan is a small newspaper, the editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, has been appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.
Zarei had earlier demanded retaliatory attacks on Israel. In November, he suggested that Iran strike the Israeli port city of Haifa over Israel’s alleged involvement in the assassination of a scientist who had created Iran’s military nuclear program decades earlier. Iran then did not retaliate.
Israel and Iran are arch-enemies.
Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and opposes US leading efforts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran. With Israel’s encouragement, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.
Iran has recently begun enriching a small amount of uranium to 60 percent purity, the highest level ever for its program, which is even closer to arms degree levels. However, Iran maintains that the program is for peaceful purposes. It also called for more international investigation into the Dimona facility.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and defense officials have acknowledged that they have prepared possible offensive missions on Iranian targets. Israel has twice bombed two Middle Eastern countries to target its nuclear programs.
All the incidents come as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over the US, which could possibly re-enter its broken nuclear power agreement with world powers. Negotiators there have so far described the talks as constructive, although they acknowledge that the Natanz sabotage could hamper the talks.
The Israeli government says the agreement will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability. It also says it does not address Iran’s long-range missile program and its support for hostile proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.