Israel: Syrian Missile Was Seen as Ballistic Threat, We Didn't Hesitate to Shoot It Down

The incident, the first in which Israel has acknowledged using the Arrow defense system, involved the interception of a Syrian missile that was projected to hit Israeli territory.

An "Arrow 3" ballistic missile interceptor seen during its test launch near Ashdod, December 10, 2015.
An "Arrow 3" ballistic missile interceptor seen during its test launch near Ashdod, December 10, 2015. Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel had no hesitation shooting down an incoming Syrian missile last week, an Israel Air Force general declared.

The commander of Israel's air defenses, Brig. Gen. Zvi Haimovich, said that there was no dilemma in using the Arrow missile system to intercept an incoming Syrian missile early Friday morning. "It was a ballistic threat that threatened the State of Israel," he said. "The directives, the policy and the orders are very clear: neutralize and intercept any threat that endangers the residents of the State of Israel, and that's also what we did last week."

The Arrow system was deployed during the night between Thursday and Friday when Israel Air Force aircraft bombed several targets in Syria. Syrian government forces fired several missiles at the Israeli aircraft. The planes were not hit, but the Arrow missile system was deployed and intercepted one of the Syrian missiles north of Jerusalem. Missile fragments fell to the ground in Jordan.

Following a debriefing by the air force, an air force officer noted that the Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft missile was identified as some kind of ground-to-ground missile due to the ballistic course that it took – from the point at which it was fired to its point of impact. Israel Defense Force officials do not believe that the launch of the SA-5 missile was deliberately carried out in this manner, but noted that over time, the systems identified the threat as ballistic and the decision was therefore taken to intercept it.

In the debriefing, aerial defense personnel justified the decision taken by those operating the Arrow missile, among other reasons because it involved a missile weighing more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) that was projected to land in the center of the Jordan Valley, where sirens were sounded during the night between Thursday and Friday. The decision in the matter, according to the air force officer, was taken in a matter of seconds.

Speaking with reporters, Brig. Gen. Haimovich, noted that there was no question regarding activating the interceptor system. ""The threat early last Friday morning was a certain ballistic threat that threatened the territory of the State of Israel. In such a situation, there is no room for question marks or dilemmas. Our role and task and goal is to neutralize and that's what we did."

In another two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces will declare the Magic Wand system, also known as David's Sling, as operational. The system is designed to intercept medium-range rockets and missiles, particularly those with considerable weight. In the future, the system will also be able to intercept unmanned aircraft.

"David's Sling comes in precisely at the seam between the Arrow and Iron Dome and is designed to intercept more advanced and complex missiles," said an officer from the battalion that operates the system. Unlike Iron Dome batteries, which are deployed at various sites around the country, from the Golan Heights to Eilat, this system is designed to be permanently placed at a number of launch sites, as the Arrow system is.

When David's Sling is declared operational, the air force will be in possession of all of the aerial defense systems that have been planned for it, from Iron Dome, which has already intercepted more than 1,000 rockets, to the Arrow 3, which is designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles from beyond the atmosphere. The air force recently took delivery of that system.