TEL AVIV — In the aftermath of Israel’s early Friday morning airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in Syria, the country’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile scored its first operational intercept — but against what, experts here are asking?
What is known of this unusual story is this: Israel’s Super Green Pine radar — part of the joint U.S.-Israel Arrow weapon system — detected a threat and launched an Arrow 2 interceptor against its first operational target. Evidence of this is clear from the Israeli Home Front alarm sounded throughout the southern environs of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley; as well as pieces of the Arrow 2 rocket engine found and photographed in Jordan.
From an official Israel Defense Forces statement released early March 17, we know that the Israeli Air Force targeted “several targets in Syria” and that, following the mission, “several antiaircraft missiles were launched from Syria.” The IDF reported that its “aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles” and stressed that “at no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or aircraft compromised.”
This statement, too, is unusual in that as a matter of policy, the IDF has not publicized the periodic strikes it carries out in Syria to prevent high-value weaponry from crossing the border into Lebanon for Hezbollah’s possible future use against Israel. The only Israeli operations in Syria that are publicly acknowledged and announced by the IDF pertain to aircraft, tank and artillery strikes in response to fire from Syrian territory quite close to Israel’s border.
Today’s statement made no mention of retaliatory strikes, and an IDF officer confirmed to Defense News that airstrikes were against “strategic assets of Hezbollah” far north of the Israel-Syria-Jordan border. Israeli media reported Friday morning that the strikes were aimed at arms convoys in Syria’s Homs District, not far from Palmyra, a formerly Islamic State group-held city retaken earlier this month by Syrian regime forces with backing from Russia.
Israeli media are reporting that the Arrow intercepted an SA-5 surface-to-air missile, or SAM, and indeed it is logical that Syria’s air defense system launched against the intruding Israeli fighters in an attempt to down the planes. But given that the Israeli attack was hundreds of kilometers away from Israeli territory, why would Israel launch Arrow, which is intended to defend the homeland? The SA-15 or any other Syrian or even Russian SAM would not have posed a threat within Israel.
And in any case, Arrow is not designed to intercept SAMs. Such anti-air missiles are not part of the system’s database, which automatically tracks trajectories and predicts impact points of incoming ballistic missiles. Once fired, an SA-5 with its four strap-on boosters create five targets in the air, all of which appear as tumbling objects whose trajectories — unlike those of ballistic missiles — are practically impossible to predict.
And even if the Arrow system’s early warning and tracking radar mistook fragments of the SAM as a ballistic target, where is the debris, experts here are asking?
A more likely scenario, several experts here said, is that the Syrian regime was so incensed by yet another Israeli air attack on its soil that it fired off a Scud-type ballistic missile to make a point. Perhaps their point was to warn Israel against future incursions into its territory.
IAF ‘Arrow’ battery intercepts Syrian missile, in first reported use of the system
Israel shot down an incoming Syrian anti-aircraft missile with the Arrow defense battery early Friday morning, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
At approximately 2:30 a.m., Israeli “aircrafts targeted several targets in Syria,” the Israel Defense Forces said, prompting a Syrian attempt to down the Israeli jets.
According to Arab media, the target of the IAF strikes was a Hezbollah weapons convoy.
“Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles,” the army said in a statement.
The anti-aircraft missiles were fired from eastern Syria by Bashar Assad’s military, traveling over Jordan and toward the Jerusalem area. They were apparently SA-5 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
The Arrow is primarily designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, intercepting the weapons and their conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads close to their launch sites.
Surface-to-air missiles are designed to detonate at high altitudes to bring down aircraft or other missiles, and so do not pose much of a threat to people on the ground other than the possibility of being directly hit by falling shrapnel or the remains of the missile.
Therefore, it was not immediately clear why the IDF used the Arrow against a SAM, possibly indicating a misidentification of the type of weapon being fired from Syria.
The IDF said neither civilians on the ground nor Israeli Air Force pilots were in any danger at any point during the incident.
The most advanced version of the defense system is the Arrow 3, which Israel has been developing with the United States since 2008. Earlier versions of the Arrow system have been in place since the 1990s.
It is a major part of the multi-layered air defense array that Israel has designed to protect itself against a range of missile threats — from short-range rockets fired from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to longer-range threats like a missile launch from Iran. The Iron Dome short-range interceptor is designed block projectiles heading for populated areas while allowing others to fall harmlessly in open areas.
The intercepted missile apparently fell in Jordan, while two more fell in Israel without causing any injury or damage.
Photos of what appear to be pieces of the Arrow missile in Jordan quickly began circulating on social media.
The launch of the IDF’s Arrow missile set off the country’s rocket alert system at 2:43 a.m.
At least two distinct explosions were heard as far west as Modiin and as far south as Jerusalem.
The sirens sounded near the Jordan Valley communities of Gitit, Mesoa, Yitav and Yafit in the Arvot Hayarden regional council, which straddles the Jordan River in the West Bank.
IDF ground forces in the area launched a search for fallen rockets and rocket fragments in the mountainous terrain.
Israel intercepts missile fired at IAF jets by Syria
IDF reported on Friday that it has shot down one of numerous anti-aircraft missiles launched Thursday night by Syria at Israeli F-15 fighter jets that had hit designated targets within Syria. Israeli Arrow anti-aircraft missiles were used to intercept a Syrian S-200 missile and protect its jets. Syria, in the meantime, described the Israeli strike in Syria as a “blatant Israeli act of aggression.”
The Israeli Military reported that its planes struck several targets in Syria, and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when the Syrian missiles were launched at its jets.
The IAF’s F-15 fighter jets (Photo: EPA)
An S-200 anti-aircraft missile (Photo: AP)
An Arrow missile (Photo: Defense Department)
Missile sirens had sounded in Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank at 02:43am, with two witnesses hearing an explosion a few minutes later. The IAF’s interception of the Syrian anti-aircrafts missiles, in addition to the resulting sirens, prompted the IDF to issue a response acknowledging the its strikes in Syria. Normally, Israel does not divulge information about such operations. This is the forst time the IDF confirmed the operational use of its Arrow ground-to-air missiles.
The unidentified object that fell in Jordan
The Syrian Army responded to the strike by saying, “This blatant Israeli act of aggression came as part of the Zionist enemy’s persistence with supporting ISIS terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations.”
The Israeli Military said in its own statement that one of the anti-aircraft missiles launched against its planes had been intercepted, adding that all IDF jets had returned to Israel unharmed. The blast from the interception was heard as far away as Jerusalem, dozens of miles from the site. No casualties or damage were reported.
The Israeli Jordan Valley Security Headquarters
“Overnight IAF (Israeli Air Force) aircraft targeted several targets in Syria. Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF (Israel Defence Force) Aerial Defence Systems intercepted one of the missiles,” the military said in its statement.
Arab media reported that Israel had targeted a delivery of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in its airstrike. Syria responded to the Israeli strikes with its its own missile attack, with the Syrian Army stating that it used S-200 anti-aircraft missiles against the Israeli jets.
Israel has carried out dozens of strikes to prevent weapons smuggling to the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is fighting rebels alongside the Syrian army.
Prior to the release of the IDF’s statement, sources in Jordan were reported that an S-200 anti-aircraft missile fell Thursday night in the northern area of Irbid, following which security forces surrounded the area of descent. It is still unclear whether the object was the remnants of the missile intercepted by Israel, part of the IAF missile, or another object.