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.
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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.
The IDF statement was rare, if not unprecedented, as the Israeli military does not generally admit to carrying out specific actions in Syria other than retaliations to spillover fire from fighting near the border. However, Israel has acknowledged that it does, generally speaking, attack such convoys traveling from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This was not the first time that the Syrian military fired SAMs at Israeli aircraft. In September 2016, Assad’s military launched two such missiles at Israeli jets carrying out a bombing run in response to mortar shells that struck the Golan Heights as a result of spillover from fighting nearby.
Then too, the Syrian military apparently launched the surface-to-air missiles after the Israeli raid, as the Israeli planes were on their way back to base.
The IDF said at the time that the missiles never posed a threat to the Israeli aircraft, though Syrian state television claimed the Syrian army had downed an Israeli fighter jet.
During that incident, Israel did not deploy any missile defense countermeasures.