Air-Launched Weapons

Israeli missile found in Syria after airstrikes

12 December 2014
An image released by a Syrian activist group shows the burnt-out rocket motor from an Israeli Popeye missile, purportedly near the Syrian town of Al-Harrah. Source: Syrian activist group

Key Points

  • The discovery of a Popeye missile in Syria confirms Damascus' claim that Israel carried out strikes on 7 December
  • The discovery of the stand-off missile also confirms that Israeli aircraft are not entering Syrian airspace to carry out attacks

Syria's claims that Israel carried out airstrikes on 7 December appear to have been confirmed by amateur video footage and images of the wreckage of an Israeli munition recovered in the southwest of the Arab country.

The Syrian authorities have claimed that Israel carried out two airstrikes: one at Damascus International Airport, the other near Al-Dimas, a town near the Lebanese border.

The claim was corroborated by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria using a network of sources. It reported that 10 explosions were heard near Al-Dimas and that a warehouse area was targeted at the airport.

A video showing Syrian men inspecting the wreckage of a still-burning munition emerged later on 7 December. One component taken from the wreckage was clearly marked with the logo of Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The wreckage appears to be consistent with Rafael's Popeye air-launched stand-off missile, rather than the Gabriel. While it is unclear which version of the Popeye was used, it was carrying a 350 kg blast fragmentation warhead that does not appear to have detonated, indicating the missile either failed or was intercepted by one of Syria's more advanced air-defence systems.

The wreckage was purportedly found near Al-Harah in Daraa province, suggesting it had been launched from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Damascus International Airport would have been close to the limit of the missile's 80-90 km range if it was following a straight flight path after being launched.

This is the latest in a series of airstrikes that Israel is believed to have carried out against targets in Syria. Israeli officials have never confirmed the claims, but have repeatedly suggested that advanced weapon systems are being targeted inside Syria before they can be transferred to the Lebanese militant group Hizubllah.

The locations that were apparently hit on 7 December were similar to those targeted in early May 2013. Satellite imagery has confirmed that warehouses just to the southeast of the passenger terminal at Damascus International Airport were destroyed on the night of 2-3 May 2013.

The New York Times cited an unidentified US official as saying Israel had targeted Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missiles that had arrived from Iran and were thought to be intended for Hizbullah.

While the Syrian government did not acknowledge this attack, a few days later it said that Israel had carried out three airstrikes: two in the Al-Dimas area and one to the north of the capital that turned out to be an ammunition storage area.

The main road linking Beirut and Damascus runs through Al-Dimas and would be an obvious route for moving heavy equipment into Lebanon. The Syrian military has also deployed several 2K12 Kub (SA-6 'Gainful') mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries around the town.

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