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Israel’s missile defense downs long-range Hamas rocket

The “Ayesh 250” was fired toward IDF Northern Command HQ in Safed. Hamas’s flagship rocket, named after a terrorist mastermind, was intercepted and destroyed by Israel’s David Sling.

David's Sling. Credit: Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office.
David's Sling. Credit: Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office.
Uzi Rubin
Uzi Rubin

On Oct. 13, Hamas fired its largest and heaviest rocket, dubbed the “Ayesh 250” towards northern Israel. The target according to Hamas was the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Northern Command in Safed, the largest city in the Upper Galilee, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Detecting the launch, Israel’s homeland defense alerted most of northern Israel’s towns and cities, providing residents with enough time to take shelter. Nevertheless, the rocket was intercepted and destroyed by Israel’s David Sling medium-range air and missile defense system. The debris from the interception fell in a waste recycling facility in northern Israel, dozens of kilometers short of the intended target.

Little is known about the “Ayesh 250,” Hamas’ flagship rocket. Hamas first unveiled the rocket during “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May 2021. The terror group named it after Yahya Ayesh, nicknamed “the engineer,” who masterminded several deadly terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers immediately after the Oslo Accords and was consequently eliminated by Israel’s intelligence agencies. Hamas gives its rockets compound names, consisting of the name of a “Shahid” (martyr) and a number that advertises the range of that specific rocket in kilometers. Thus, “Ayesh 250” means that the rocket is designed to achieve a range of 250 kilometers, or 155 miles.

Hamas released a heavily censored video showing the rocket on a cradle, which could be its launch rail. It then showed a short clip of its launching, while omitting any view of its launch mode. Thus, it is not known whether the rocket launched from an underground shelter or a surface location. However, the scene shows a huge cloud of dirt being kicked out by the motor’s ignition, which may indicate an above-ground launch. There were no clues as to the rocket’s size or weight. As a rule, unguided rockets need to be spin-stabilized after launch to achieve some degree of accuracy.

The Iranian “Zilzal” sports a pair of “water sprinkler” auxiliary rockets that spin it as soon as it is released from its launch rail. The “Ayesh 250” seems to lack such an active spin system. The spin stabilizing may be achieved by angling the rear fins of the rocket. The “Ayesh 250” may well be an indigenous Hamas design, probably the work of Jamal al-Zabada, the Palestinian/American rocket engineer and a graduate of a leading U.S. technological institute who joined Hamas in the early 2000s and became the chief engineer of the Gaza military industry. Israel eliminated him during “Operation Guardian of the Walls” together with several key members of his team.

Hamas fired a single “Ayesh 250” on May 13, 2021, targeting the Ramon International Airport near Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat. It reportedly missed the airport and fell somewhere in the South Negev district. No information was released by the Israel Defense Forces about the range it achieved in this shot.

On Oct. 25, 2023, Hamas claimed to have launched an “Ayesh 250” rocket towards Eilat. The rocket was not intercepted but fell harmlessly in an open area somewhere north of its target.

On Nov. 5, Israel’s Arrow air defense system intercepted a Hamas rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Eilat, according to the Israeli Defense Forces. Hamas claimed it was an “Ayesh 250.”

David’s Sling, the missile defense system that brought down the “Ayesh 250” on Oct. 13, uses a very agile high-altitude interceptor, heavier (and costlier) than the interceptors used by the Iron Dome. It was designed to shoot down heavy long-range rockets as well as aircraft. This was not its first operational success. It had already scored twice against shorter-range rockets fired from Gaza during “Operation Shield and Arrow” launched against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in May 2023. Its success against the much heavier and longer-range “Ayesh 250” should be a source of satisfaction to the designers of David’s Sling and to its Israeli Air Force operators.

This is a version of an article originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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