December 17, 2010 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Israeli air force yesterday shot down what seems to have been a balloon that flew over the country's secretive Dimona nuclear reactor site.
IDFAF F-16B block 5 (original) #004 and #996 from tayeset 116 are about to take off on October 6th, 2010. [Ngphoto.biz
photo by Nehemia Gershuni]
An army spokeswoman confirmed an object, "probably a balloon", was shot down after being detected in the area of the southern Dead Sea, which is near the reactor.
There were reports the military was checking if the object was on a photographic mission of the installation. Some reports said the balloon had a motor.
's Negev Nuclear Research Centre, which is closed to international inspection and where Israel is believed to have built more than 200 nuclear weapons, is located about ten miles south-east of the town of Dimona.
Construction on the Dimona reactor began in 1958, and it became operational in 1963. Israel enforces a strict airspace quarantine in the area of the facility as they consider the desert reactor a prime target for attack by its enemies.
In October 2009 IAF fighter jets were scrambled to escort an ultralight plane that veered off the permitted flight zone near the Dimona nuclear research center and got too close to the sensitive site. The jets forced the plane to land near Arad.
During the 1967 Middle East war, an Israeli surface-to-air missile downed a crippled Israeli fighter-bomber that strayed into the restricted zone. Its pilot was killed.
In yesterday's incident, it was decided to down the object with a missile fired by an F-16 after it became clear it was unmanned and the reason for its presence was uncertain.
Air space in the Arava area was closed during the incident, and all flights between Tel Aviv and Eilat were halted. After the balloon was shot down and verified that it was no threat, flights were resumed. Search parties are currently scouring the area where the balloon fell to verify exactly what it was.