IDF: Iron Dome malfunction to blame for deadly Rehovot rocket strike

Interceptor launched, but did not hit its target, spokesman says, week after system failed to activate in Sderot; 4 civilians killed in Gaza by rockets falling short, army claims

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

Police at the scene where a rocket fired from Gaza into Israel, hit and damaged a house in Rehovot on May 11, 2023. (Flash90)
Police at the scene where a rocket fired from Gaza into Israel, hit and damaged a house in Rehovot on May 11, 2023. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces said an Iron Dome interceptor missile suffered a “technical fault” Thursday, missing a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip that ultimately struck a home in Rehovot, killing one Israeli and injuring several others.

However, military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari described the issue — the second to plague the system in just over a week — as likely isolated, claiming that the missile defense system managed to down 91 percent of targeted projectiles.

“There was a technical fault, the interceptor was launched and did not hit the rocket,” Hagari told reporters Friday. He noted that the malfunction would be investigated further.

He said the deadly rocket was similar to the hundreds of other crudely made projectiles launched from Gaza over the recent escalation, but it hit the apartment building at “a complex angle,” causing widespread destruction.

The direct hit blew a massive hole in an apartment on the third story of a building in Rehovot, a city of 150,000 some 45 kilometers (27 miles) north of Gaza, raining rubble on the street below.

The malfunction came after the Iron Dome had a separate issue that kept it from activating during a flareup with Islamic Jihad earlier this month. The malfunction led to several rockets landing in populated areas, including one that hit a construction site in the city of Sderot and wounded three foreign nationals.

The Iron Dome has seen malfunctions in the past. In May 2021, a technical issue with an Iron Dome battery during a massive rocket barrage toward the coastal city of Ashkelon prevented some rockets from being intercepted and may have been responsible for the deaths of two women and the injury of dozens of people.

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, as seen from the southern Gaza Strip, on May 11, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The Rehovot victim, whose name has not been released, was declared dead by medics who arrived on the scene Thursday evening, police said. Medics described him as a 70-year-old person, and deputy Rehovot Mayor Yaniv Markovich said they had limited mobility.

He was apparently not inside a protected room when the rocket hit, despite alarm sirens sounding in the city prior to the strike.

Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, visiting the scene afterward, said the room was being used for storage. “This shows how important it is to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command,” he said.

Of the five injured in the Rehovot rocket attack, four were in moderate condition and one suffered minor wounds.

Visiting the scene on Friday, opposition head Yair Lapid advised people to comply with Home Front Command instructions. “We have an air defense, it’s not perfect.”

The deadly attack, coupled with several other rocket strikes in southern Israel that caused another two injuries, initially put a spanner in efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad after three days of combat. Nonetheless, a tense calm held on Friday morning with both rocket fire and Israeli air strikes falling away overnight.

Operation Shield and Arrow, as it is known in the military, was launched early Tuesday with the killing of three top Islamic Jihad commanders in the wake of rocket fire from Gaza earlier this month. Another two senior Islamic Jihad members were killed in separate strikes during the fighting.

Smoke rises above buildings after IDF airstrikes the southern Gaza Strip, on May 11, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

The terror group responded to the deadly strikes in Gaza by firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli communities, killing one, injuring at least seven others, and causing extensive material damage, mostly across southern Israel. Over 50 people have also sought treatment for minor wounds suffered as they tried to reach shelter, or because of acute anxiety from nearby impacts.

As of the last projectile fired at 10 p.m. on Thursday, the IDF said Palestinians in Gaza had launched 866 rockets and mortar shells at Israel since the fighting began. According to the military, at least 672 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 163 fell short in Gaza — with some of them believed to have killed four Palestinians.

The rocket fire has reached as far as Tel Aviv.

Trails of smoke seen as rockets are fired from Gaza toward Israel on May 11, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/ Flash90)

The IDF said air defense systems — Iron Dome and the medium-range David’s Sling — intercepted 260 of the rockets, marking a 91% interception rate of projectiles heading for populated areas.

Last year, the IDF boasted of a 97% interception rate by Iron Dome.

On Wednesday, Israel said it successfully utilized the homegrown David’s Sling anti-missile system in a real-world situation for the first time, downing a rocket headed for Tel Aviv. The system, which Israel is hoping to showcase for export, is expected to join the short-range Iron Dome and long-range Arrow 3 in Israel’s multi-tiered air defense array.

The military said it carried out strikes against 215 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign, the last confirmed by the IDF to have been at 2 a.m. on Friday against military sites and underground rocket launchers.

At least 30 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and at least 93 more injured.

Hagari said that Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip killed 16 terror group operatives and 10 civilians, all of whom were slain during the opening strikes of Israel’s operation on Tuesday morning. The victims included the wives and children of the targeted commanders as well as people in neighboring homes.

Another four Palestinian civilians were believed to have been killed by Islamic Jihad rockets that fell short in Gaza, Hagari said.

A picture shows a building housing the apartment (top floor) of an Islamic Jihad military leader, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, early on May 11, 2023. (Said Khatib / AFP)

Despite the calm, security restrictions in southern Israel remained in place, including rules mandating school closures within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza and limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.

The restrictions were valid until 2 p.m. on Friday, and Hagari said the IDF would assess the situation and decide if they should remain in place or be adjusted and extended, despite no rocket attacks in hours.

Hagari said Israeli civilians should “not be complacent, even though there have been no launches since 10:00 p.m.”

Regarding a potential ceasefire, Hagari said, “There have been contacts for over a day. We don’t comment on them, we don’t know when it will happen. We are busy defending and attacking.”

Israeli officials have insisted that they are keeping the fight limited to Islamic Jihad and not the larger and better-armed Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, hoping to avoid widening the conflict, while warning that it is prepared to do so if fired upon.

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