Military Capabilities

Errant Syrian-launched SAM hits Cyprus

01 July 2019

Members of the northern Cypriot security forces stand on a burnt portion of a slope where, according to officials, a suspected Russian-built missile exploded overnight on 1 July during an Israeli aerial raid in Syria. Source: Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP/Getty Images

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) reportedly fired from Syria at attacking Israeli aircraft in the early hours of 1 July crashed into Northern Cyprus instead.

Images of the crash site posted online showed the burnt-out remains of a missile that had landed in scrubland in the Turkish-occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus (known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by Ankara).

Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay tentatively identified the missile as being fired from an S-200 (NATO code SA-5) long-range SAM system, adding that it was Turkey's assessment that the missile had exploded in the air before the fragments landed on the island.

"It is thought that the explosion was before the impact, as no pits were opened on the ground. Parts falling at several different points confirm that the missile exploded in the air before it hit," he said on his Facebook page. There were no reports of casualties following the incident, which occurred at about 0100 h local time, although the impact did cause a substantial ground fire.

At about 240 km from Damascus, Cyprus is at the outer-edge of the reported range of the S-200VE system that Russia refurbished in 2016 as part of that country's then-growing involvement in the Syrian civil war. Given Ozersay's comment regarding the missile exploding in the air before hitting Cyprus, it appears that the missile was equipped with an auto self-destruct mechanism that fired once it reached its effective range and went ballistic. The S-200's missile is about 10 m long and 3 m in diameter.

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