ExplainerArrow intercepts were high in sky and, in some cases, in space

How Israel foiled Iran’s ballistic missiles as they headed to an F-35 airbase

Sirens rang out and explosions heard nationwide as Arrow system knocked down projectiles, some in space; drones and cruise missiles all intercepted at earlier stage

Emanuel Fabian

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

Iranian ballistic missiles are launched at Israel, early April 14, 2024. (Iranian state media, via X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Sirens and explosions were heard nationwide in Israel early Sunday morning as Iran launched a wave of more than 300 drones and missiles at the country in its first-ever direct attack on the Jewish state.

Here is what we know about what Iran attempted to target, how Israel defended against the attack, and why alarms were activated and explosions were heard across the country.

While a list of sites Iran tried to hit has not been publicized by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — which launched the drones and missiles — the main target of the attack appeared to be a sensitive airbase in southern Israel, Nevatim, home to the F-35 stealth fighter jet, the military’s most advanced aircraft.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iran’s attack comprised 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles — 99% of which were intercepted by air defenses.

All the drones and cruise missiles were downed outside of the country’s airspace by the Israeli Air Force and its allies, including the United States, United Kingdom, Jordan, France, and others — according to the IDF’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

The drones had a flight time of multiple hours to reach Israel, and the cruise missiles similarly would have taken around more than an hour to reach their target, according to assessments by defense officials.

Pictures released by the Israeli Air Force showing planes returning after intercepting the direct attack from Iran, April 14, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The ballistic missiles, however, have a much shorter flight time — around 10 minutes — and are more challenging to intercept, and indeed some managed to evade Israel’s air defenses early Sunday.

The IDF said that the long-range Arrow air defense system managed to knock down the “vast majority” of the 120 ballistic missiles. The Arrow 3 system is designed to take out ballistic missiles while they are still outside of the atmosphere.

Unlike the drones and cruise missiles, the ballistic missiles were shot down over Israel, leading the IDF to activate warning sirens over fears of falling shrapnel. The sole injury in Israel due to the Iranian attack was a Bedouin girl who was struck and seriously wounded by falling shrapnel in the Negev desert.

It is understood that explosions were heard across the country as a result of the Arrow interceptions of the ballistic missiles, despite them being shot down high up in the sky and, in some cases, in space. Flashing lights seen in the sky were caused by the interceptions themselves, as well as the falling shrapnel.

This video grab from AFPTV taken on April 14, 2024, shows explosions lighting up the sky over the West Bank city of Hebron, during an Iranian attack on Israel. (AFPTV/AFP)

Most of the sirens warning against the falling shrapnel and ballistic missiles were activated in the central and eastern Negev region of southern Israel, specifically in the area surrounding Nevatim Airbase. Sirens also sounded in the Jerusalem area, the West Bank, and Golan Heights.

A few of the ballistic missiles managed to bypass the Israeli defenses and strike the Nevatim base. According to the IDF, minor damage was caused to infrastructure at the airbase, but it was operating as usual on Sunday morning.

Another sign that Nevatim was believed by Israel to be the target of the attack came  hours earlier, when the “Wing of Zion” official state plane took flight from the airbase. The move was intended to prevent the plane, which is stored at Nevatim, from being targeted in the attack.

Comments made by Hagari Sunday morning further hinted that Nevatim was Iran’s main target.

F-35i fighter jets are seen at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, in an undated handout photo. (Israel Defense Forces)

“As you can see now, the base is functioning and continues to perform its tasks. In the picture, you can see the runway at Nevatim,” he said, showing live footage from the airbase during his press statement, attempting to dispel rumors that the airbase was severely damaged.

“Iran thought it would be able to paralyze the base and thus damage our air capabilities, but it failed,” he said.

“Air Force planes continue to take off and land from the base, and depart for offense and defense missions, including the Adir (F-35) planes that are now returning to the base from a defense mission and soon you will see them landing,” Hagari added.

The unprecedented attack on Israel came as tensions between Israel and Iran had reached a new high in recent days. The Islamic Republic vowed to avenge seven IRGC members, including two generals, who were killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike on a building near Tehran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1.

Most Popular
read more: