The long-range Arrow air defense system intercepted a surface-to-surface missile over the Red Sea launched toward Eilat, the military said Thursday, hours after a drone crashed into a school in the southernmost city.
Sirens were activated in Eilat and its surrounding area in the evening as the rocket approached. There were no injuries or damage in the incident.
The military did not yet elaborate on who had fired the missile, but the interception came as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed they launched a “batch of ballistic missiles” targeting “various sensitive targets” in southern Israel, including Eilat.
It was the first time ever that Israel’s most advanced air defense system, the Arrow 3, made a successful interception of a missile, according to the Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry.
Previous interceptions with the Arrow system in recent weeks — a Houthi ballistic missile from Yemen and a long-range rocket from Gaza — were downed using the older Arrow 2 missile.
Boaz Levy, the CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries — the designer and manufacturer of the Arrow system — hailed the “historic” event.
“This is a historic interception, which strategically emphasizes the multi-layered response the State of Israel has against long-range ballistic threats,” Levy said.
The Arrow 3 was first deployed in 2017, and it is designed to take out ballistic missiles while they are still outside of the atmosphere.
Later Thursday, the IDF said it intercepted a “suspicious target” in the Arava region, north of Eilat.
The target, which did not enter Israeli airspace, was knocked out of the sky by the medium-range Patriot air defense system, the IDF said. It was unclear what the target was.
Earlier in the day, a drone of unclear origin crashed and exploded at a school in the southernmost city of Eilat, causing damage to the building.
There were no serious injuries in the blast at Tze’elim Elementary School, but the Magen David Adom ambulance service treated five people for anxiety, and a man in his 20s for smoke inhalation.
Some 40 students were in the basement of the school when it was hit, local council officials said.
Buzzing can be heard in surveillance camera footage from moments before the blast in Eilat. pic.twitter.com/rehOigA2Ty
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) November 9, 2023
The six were taken to Yoseftal Medical Center in the city, according to an MDA statement.
In surveillance camera footage from near the school, buzzing from the drone can be heard before the blast.
The explosion occurred on the upper level of the school, causing damage to some windows and a ceiling.
The IDF said the “identity of the aircraft and the details of the incident are under review,” as media reports speculated if it could have been launched from within Israel, or from abroad.
Police asked the public to stay away from the area where the explosion occurred.
The local municipality said in a statement it had canceled educational activities in the city for the rest of the day.
It added that students were “immediately evacuated to the shelter and with the approval of the Home Front Command, the students left the school, where their parents collected them.”
In recent weeks, the Houthis have attempted to fire drones and missiles at Eilat, though in all the attempts the projectiles were either intercepted or missed their target.
In a post on X, Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree claimed the missiles fired Thursday hit their targets “despite the enemy’s secrecy about this.” He added that the Houthis will keep carrying out military actions to support the “oppressed Palestinian people” until the “Israeli aggression” in Gaza stops.
The group claimed to have launched a fresh drone attack that temporarily halted activity at Israeli military bases and airports Monday, but no evidence was provided and officials said no incursion had been detected. An unsourced Channel 12 report suggested that the purported drones from Yemen may have been shot down by Jordan.
Last week, the Houthis claimed a drone attack and said they had carried out three earlier strikes with drones and ballistic missiles.
They have said they are acting as part of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, which includes Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Houthi forces “continue to carry out more qualitative military operations in support of the Palestinian people… until the brutal Israeli aggression against our brothers in Gaza stops,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree posted on X Monday.
The ongoing war erupted when Hamas terrorists stormed from Gaza into southern Israel on October 7, massacring some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing over 240 hostages in the deadliest attack in the Jewish state’s history.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that more than 10,000 people, most of them children and women, have been killed in Israeli strikes in the Strip. That figure cannot be verified independently and is thought to include the terror group’s own fighters as well as Palestinian civilians killed by misfired rockets from Gaza.
Since the conflict began, there have been a string of attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria as well as almost daily exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border between Hezbollah and the IDF.
AFP contributed to this report.