David’s Sling downs rocket headed for Tel Aviv in first real-world interception

The David’s Sling air defense system successfully shot down a rocket from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a military source said, marking the first real-world interception for the battery.

The rocket was one of three fired at Tel Aviv at around 2:20 p.m. as Islamic Jihad terrorists launched a response to an Israeli offensive that began before dawn Tuesday. The Israel Defense Forces said at least 6,000 rockets were fired at Israel, with over 95 percent of rockets intercepted by Iron Dome.

The other two rockets launched at Tel Aviv landed in open areas, including the sea. The IDF later confirmed the successful use of David’s Sling system in a statement.

The medium-range David’s Sling is expected to fill a hole in Israel’s missile defense array, which includes the short-range Iron Dome and the Arrow system, which is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles.

Iron Dome has redrawn the contours of Israel’s conflicts with Gaza since it was first rolled out over a decade ago, during a similar flareup with the Palestinian enclave. Until now, Iron Dome batteries have been the main defensive weapon used against rockets fired on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, including at medium ranges.

In 2020 the IDF carried out a major air defense drill that included testing a new version of the David’s Sling. In the test, the missile defense system was pitted against ballistic missiles, which follow a fixed and predetermined trajectory, as well as the more difficult-to-hit cruise missiles.

Two years earlier, the military failed to shoot down missiles from Syria using the David’s Sling system.

The IDF said at the time that the decision to activate David’s Sling was sound, but the defense system failed to intercept the missiles due to technical reasons that could not be published due to security concerns. Those missiles ultimately fell inside Syrian territory.

David’s Sling is designed to intercept threats that have a higher altitude and longer range than those covered by Iron Dome. It uses Stunner interceptors with multipulse rocket motors and active radar seekers.

The system is operated by the IAF’s 66th Battalion, which was established in 2016 and is currently commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Revital Barzani. The unit conducted its first attempted operational intercept on 23 July 2018 against two Syrian Tochka (SS-21) ballistic missiles that initially appeared to be heading into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. The intercept was aborted when it was determined the missiles would actually land on rebel positions in southern Syria, but only one Stunner self-destructed, with the other landing inside Syria.

According to Israel, the salvo at Tel Aviv was fired by Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group thought to have a smaller and less advanced missile array than Hamas.

Islamic Jihad, as well as the so-called Joint Operations Room of various Palestinian terror factions in the Gaza Strip — which includes both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — vowed a response to the deadly airstrikes. IDF sources said Wednesday that so far Hamas has not participated in the rocket fire toward Israel.

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