US general: Syrian missile strike in Israel was ‘incompetence,’ not attack
A Syrian missile that landed in Israel early Thursday appears to be the result of “incompetence” rather than a deliberate attack, a top U.S. general said.
“I think it reflects actually incompetence in Syrian air defense,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked about the incident.
“They were responding to Israeli strikes on targets in Syria. They fired their missiles, the missiles went ballistic, literally, and followed a parabolic trajectory into Israel,” McKenzie added. “I do not believe it was an intentional attack, but just rather a lack of capability on the part of the Syrian air defenders.”
McKenzie’s assessment follows similar comments out of Israel.
The Syrian missile exploded near a secretive nuclear reactor in southern Israel, initially raising fears of Iranian retaliation after an attack at one of its nuclear facilities suspected to have been carried out by Israel.
But Israeli media later described the missile as an “errant” projectile. And Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said an anti-aircraft missile was fired from Syria during an Israeli strike there against “assets that could be used for a potential attack against Israel,” according to Reuters.
Syrian state media reported that the exchange began with an Israeli airstrike on a Damascus suburb.
In response to the missile that landed in Israel, Israeli forces conducted further strikes inside Syria against its air defense systems, including the one that fired the surface-to-air missile in question, the Israeli military said.
Israeli forces have launched strikes inside of Syria for years, including against Iranian-linked forces, and those strikes in the past have drawn fire from Syrian anti-aircraft defenses.
But Thursday’s incident was unusual in how deep the missile landed inside Israel.
It also came against the backdrop of heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. Tehran has blamed Israel for an attack at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility earlier this month and vowed retaliation.
Jerusalem has neither confirmed nor denied its role in any attack on Natanz, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
The heightened Israel-Iran tensions come as the United States is involved in indirect talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement. U.S. officials have described slow and incremental progress in the talks.