David’s Sling downs rocket headed for Tel Aviv in first real-world interception

Medium-range anti-missile system failed in sole previous attempt to shoot down hostile projectile, but now may join Iron Dome in changing face of Gazan threat

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A smoke trail of a David's Sling interceptor missile is seen in northern Israel after the interceptor was fired toward a Syrian SS-21 missile, on July 23, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A smoke trail of a David's Sling interceptor missile is seen in northern Israel after the interceptor was fired toward a Syrian SS-21 missile, on July 23, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The David’s Sling air defense system successfully shot down a rocket from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a military source said, marking the first real-world interception for the battery.

The rocket was one of three fired at Tel Aviv at around 2:20 p.m. as Islamic Jihad terrorists launched a response to an Israeli offensive that began before dawn Tuesday. The Israel Defense Forces said at least 286 rockets were fired at Israel Wednesday afternoon, with over 60 intercepted by Iron Dome. Three fell in populated areas while the rest fell short in Gaza or landed in open areas.

The other two rockets launched at Tel Aviv landed in open areas, including the sea.

The IDF later confirmed the successful use of the David’s Sling system in a statement.

The medium-range David’s Sling is expected to fill a hole in Israel’s missile defense array, which includes the short-range Iron Dome and the Arrow system, which is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles.

Iron Dome has redrawn the contours of Israel’s conflicts with Gaza since it was first rolled out over a decade ago, during a similar flareup with the Palestinian enclave. Until now, Iron Dome batteries have been the main defensive weapon used against rockets fired on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, including at medium ranges.

In 2020 the IDF carried out a major air defense drill that included testing a new version of the David’s Sling. In the test, the missile defense system was pitted against ballistic missiles, which follow a fixed and predetermined trajectory, as well as the more difficult-to-hit cruise missiles.

Two years earlier, the military failed to shoot down missiles from Syria using the David’s Sling system.

The IDF said at the time that the decision to activate David’s Sling was sound, but the defense system failed to intercept the missiles due to technical reasons that could not be published due to security concerns. Those missiles ultimately fell inside Syrian territory.

A test of the David’s Sling missile defense system. (Defense Ministry)

The military said in 2018 that the lessons it learned from that incident — the first known operational use of David’s Sling — “will be implemented in the air defense system.”

According to Israel, the salvo at Tel Aviv was fired by Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group thought to have a smaller and less advanced missile array than Hamas.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The IDF launched the surprise operation early Tuesday morning with the targeted assassination of three senior Islamic Jihad officials, in airstrikes that also killed 10 others.

Islamic Jihad, as well as the so-called Joint Operations Room of various Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip — which includes both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — vowed a response to the deadly airstrikes. IDF sources said Wednesday that so far Hamas has not participated in the rocket fire toward Israel.

The strikes in Gaza on Wednesday brought the Palestinian death toll during the Israeli operation to 20.

Times of Israel staff and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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