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IDF deploys air defenses to south amid threats of attack from Yemen

Iron Dome and Patriot batteries seen in Eilat area in recent days over concerns Iran may seek revenge for killings of Soleimani, Fakhrizadeh with attack on Israel by Houthis

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A Patriot missile defense battery sits in the desert in the Ovda air base in southern Israel during the international Blue Flag exercise on November 9, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Illustrative. A Patriot missile defense battery sits in the desert in the Ovda air base in southern Israel during the international Blue Flag exercise on November 9, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The Israeli military has deployed air defense batteries around the southern city of Eilat in recent days amid concerns of an attack from the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.

The move came around the first anniversary of the United States killing of Qassem Soleimani, the influential head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, in an airstrike in Iraq and a month and a half after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Iran’s military nuclear program, was killed, allegedly by Israel.

Iran has indicated plans to exact revenge for these two high profile killings. The Israeli military assessed that such retaliation was likely to come from an Iranian proxy, potentially from the Houthis, a Yemeni group that has conducted a number of attacks over the years against Tehran’s other rival in the region, Saudi Arabia.

Last month, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told a Saudi news outlet that Israel had information indicating Iran was developing unmanned aerial vehicles and “smart missiles” in Iraq and Yemen, and that the weapons could have the ability to strike Israel.

In light of this threat, Iron Dome and Patriot missile defense batteries have been deployed near Israel’s southern tip of Eilat in recent days. The Iron Dome is generally used against rockets and mortar shells, but can also intercept small drones and cruise missiles. The Patriot system is used primarily to defend against ballistic missiles and larger aircraft like fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In recent weeks, the Israeli military has also reportedly sailed a submarine through the area, sending the vessel through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea. Due to the shallow depth of the canal, submarines can only pass through it above the water, where they can easily be spotted. As such, the move was generally seen as a show of force directed toward Iran.

In his interview last month, Zilberman said Israel was tracking Iranian movements around the region, and that Israeli submarines were quietly “sailing everywhere.”

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