Ministers believe lightning strike at fault in Gaza rocket that hit Beersheba

Cabinet reportedly accepts weather behind incident that almost caused major escalation in violence; justice minister confirms ‘Hamas did not mean to shoot’

Video appears to show two rockets launched from the Gaza Strip following a lightning strike on October 17, 2018 (video screenshot)
Video appears to show two rockets launched from the Gaza Strip following a lightning strike on October 17, 2018 (video screenshot)

Israeli officials now definitively believe that the launch of two rockets from the Gaza Strip last week, one of which hit a house and nearly started a major round of hostilities, was accidental.

A report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Tuesday said that the high-level security cabinet has accepted the explanation that the launch of two Grad rockets from the Strip early last Wednesday morning was caused by lightning.

“It would not have been right to go to war over the weather,” an unnamed minister told the paper.

Asked about the report, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Israel Radio that while she could not confirm that the weather was the cause, “based on what we know, Hamas did not mean to shoot the rockets.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2018. (Flash90)

The rockets were fired from Gaza shortly after 3:30 a.m. One exploded outside a home in the southern city of Beersheba, causing significant damage to the building but no injuries as mother Miri Tamano inside had rushed her three sons to a bomb shelter before the projectile hit.

Around the same time, the second rocket landed off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area, known as Gush Dan.

According to the lightning theory that emerged Thursday, the projectiles were armed, ready and aimed at Beersheba and Gush Dan in case of an outbreak of violence with Israel when lightning struck in the area and sent them on their way.

Five bolts of lightning struck in the Gaza area around between 3:10 and 3:20 a.m. that morning, according to maps produced by Dr. Barry Lynn of the Weather-It-Is company and the Israel Total Lightning Network, which tracks lightning strikes.

Four of them touched down out at sea, but one struck within the Gaza Strip.

The rockets were a locally produced mid-range variety with a heavy 20-kilogram (44-pound) warhead. According to the Israel Defense Forces, only the Gaza-ruling Hamas and Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups have access to that type of projectile.

Hamas and the PIJ quickly denied responsibility for the rockets and denounced whoever had launched them, saying it was “irresponsible” and threatened to derail an Egyptian-led effort to reach a longer term armistice with Israel in exchange for economic incentives.

Damage to a Beersheba home hit by a rocket on October 17, 2018. (Flash90)

In response to the rockets, the IDF launched a series of airstrikes against some 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including a Hamas border-crossing attack tunnel.

In the following hours, the theory that the rockets had been set off by a bolt of lightning began spreading in Palestinian media outlets.

Veteran Israeli Arab affairs reporter Shimrit Meir presented the theory on her popular Twitter page, writing, “Friends, there’s a new version about the launch, and I’m not kidding now. News outlets close to Hamas are claiming it was lightning that struck the missiles and set them off, one to the north and one to Beersheba.”

The claim was bolstered by a cellphone video from Gaza that purported to show the launches moments after a bolt of lightning struck the area.

Tal Inbar, an expert in rocketry at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies think tank, told The Times of Israel last week that the projectiles are triggered by an electronic mechanism so a lightning strike could set it off, especially because terror groups in the Strip likely aren’t using sophisticated safety precautions.

“I don’t believe that Hamas or anyone else there is putting in place measures to protect against short circuits. They work fairly simply,” he said.

According to Yoav Yair, a professor of atmospheric and space sciences at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, the intensity of the lightning strikes — 30,000 amps in less than a millisecond — means that they would not have had to strike the exact location of the rockets, but could potentially have hit dozens of meters away and still could have set off the projectiles.

Recent days have seen relative calm along the Gaza border. Hadashot TV news reported over the weekend that Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies and is working toward curbing violence at the rallies.

Jerusalem believes the terrorist rulers of the coastal enclave are tempering the demonstrations in order to give a chance to Egyptian mediators seeking to strike a deal between Hamas and Israel for a long-term truce in Gaza, the report said.

Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, October 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On Sunday Israel reopened the crossings into the Strip, allowing people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave, following a decrease in the violence. They had been closed after the rocket launch.

Israeli defense officials described this past Friday’s demonstrations at the border as some of the quietest since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

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