Israel says it strikes targets in Syria after missile attack

Israel says it strikes targets in Syria after missile attack
This file image made from video shows what is said to be Israel’s top secret nuclear facility in the southern Israeli town of Dimona (Channel 10/AP/File)

A missile launched from Syria struck southern Israel in the early hours of Thursday, setting off air raid sirens near the country’s top-secret nuclear reactor, the Israeli military said.

In response, Israel said it attacked the missile launcher and air-defence systems in neighbouring Syria.

The incident, marking the most serious violence between Israel and Syria in years, pointed to likely 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. It also threatened to complicate US-led attempts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His country’s military says it has retaliated against forces in Syria over a missile attack in the early hours of Thursday (Debbie Hill/Pool/AP)

The Israeli army said the missile landed in the Negev region and air raid sirens were sounded in a village near Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear reactor is located, and explosions were reported across Israel. The army later said the incoming missile had caused no damage.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility or comment from Iran. But on Saturday, Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper published an opinion piece by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei suggesting Israel’s Dimona facility be targeted in an “eye for an eye” response after the attack on Natanz.

Action should be taken “against the nuclear facility in Dimona”, he wrote. “This is because no other action is at the same level as the Natanz incident.”

The Dimona reactor is widely believed to be the centrepiece of an undeclared nuclear weapons programme. Israel neither confirms nor denies that it has a nuclear arsenal.

While Kayhan is a small circulation newspaper, its editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.

Mr Zarei has demanded retaliatory strikes on Israel in the past. In November, he suggested Iran strike the Israeli port city of Haifa over Israel’s suspected involvement in the killing of a scientist who founded Iran’s military nuclear programme decades earlier. However, Iran did not retaliate then.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose country has accused Israel of being behind a series of incidents targeting Iran’s nuclear programme (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP)

Israel and Iran are arch-enemies. Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and has opposed US-led efforts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran. With Israel’s encouragement, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

Iran recently began enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60% purity, the highest level ever for its programme that edges even closer to weapons-grade levels. However, Iran insists its programme is for peaceful purposes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons capability. Israel has twice bombed other Middle East nations to target their nuclear programmes.

All the incidents come as Iran negotiates in Vienna with world powers over the US potentially re-entering its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. Negotiators there have described the talks as constructive so far, though they acknowledge the Natanz sabotage could strain the talks.

Israel’s government says the deal will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. It also says it does not address Iran’s long-range missile programme and its support for hostile proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.

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