The IDF confirmed on Thursday that Israel fired a Patriot anti-ballistic missile at a target in the Golan Heights, Israel's northern region bordering Syria.
Social media video of explosions near Syria's Damascus airport, April 27, 2017 (REUTERS)
Israeli media said residents in the northern Israeli town of Safed reported seeing two missiles being launched and of explosions occurring afterwards. It was initially unclear whether the target, which media said was an unmanned drone, was shot down over Syria or Israeli-controlled territory.
The interception comes hours after Israel allegedly struck a Hezbollah arms depot near Damascus International Airport, which led to condemnation by Russia which called it a “gross violation of Syrian sovereignty.”
Israel has in the past used the Patriot system against suspicious aerial vehicles, most recently in July 2016 when two Patriot missiles were fired at a suspicious drone that crossed into Israeli airspace from Syria. Both missed their target and the unmanned aircraft returned to Syria.
In August 2014, a Patriot missile successfully shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace from the Quneitra region Syria close to the Israeli border.
In March, Syria warned that scud missiles would be fired towards Israeli targets if Israel carried out any further airstrikes in the war-torn country. Lebanon’s Al-Diyar newspaper said that Damascus prepared 4 Scuds out of their arsenal of 800 Scud missiles which carry half a ton of explosives, and would launch them without any prior warning if Israel carries out any new strikes, “as Israel does not announce their raids against Syrian targets.”
The report came following an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah-bound weapons convoy and the firing of a SA-5 missile towards Israeli jets which was intercepted by an Arrow missile.
Israel’s air defense systems include the Iron Dome, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the newly operational David’s Sling missile defense system, which is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium-to-long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300km.
David’s Sling missile defense system is meant to replace the ageing Patriot system.
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has warned that the terror group is able to hit “the entirety of occupied Palestine with missiles,” but according to a senior IDF officer in the Air Defense Command, with the addition of the David’s Sling to Israel’s Air Defenses, there is now the ability to protect more territory from enemy rockets or missiles.
The border with Syria has been tense since the war erupted in 2011, and while Israel is suspected of carrying out strikes against Hezbollah weapons convoys in Syrian territory, it rarely publicly admits to them. With various heavily armed radical groups battling President Bashar Assad, Syria is Israel’s most unpredictable and unstable neighbor and poses one of the largest risks for a sudden escalation.