Sinai terrorists hit Eilat with midnight Grad rocket

An Eilat police sapper examines the remains of the Grad rocket that hit the city shortly after midnight Thursday. (Israel Police)

EILAT (JWN and agencies)—Terrorists based in Sinai fired a 122mm Grad artillery rocket at Israel’s southernmost city Eilat just after midnight Thursday. It struck just 100 meters from a residential area, but the only casualties were a few residents who suffered from shock. No damage was reported.

The Eilat attack was extremely rare. The previous rocket attack took place in 2010, killing one person and injuring four. Rockets also hit the harbor in the neighboring Jordanian town of Aqaba.

Egypt was quick to deny that the rocket was fired from just across the border in Sinai, despite the contrary indication of its flight path, which was observed by residents of the tourist town. In addition, Egyptian security forces were observed scouring the area for the terrorists who launched the missile.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the strike “a serious incident. We’re studying the incident and we will target those who shoot at Eilat and attempt to harm Israeli citizens. There will be no compromise in the matter. The security situation in the Sinai forces us into a different kind of confrontation,” Barak added.

“The challenge of terrorism is not over and will accompany today’s soldiers until their hair recedes and turns gray,” Barak said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at an event marking the fortieth anniversary of the freeing by Israeli commandoes of the passengers of Sabena Flight 571 from Palestinian hijackers, said Israel would not tolerate terrorism from the Sinai.

“We’re building a fence. The fence won’t stop rockets, but we’ll find a solution for the rockets, too,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel will “attack those who attack us and their backers, in this case as well.”

Netanyahu did not dwell on the fact that the Sabena operation was undertaken by the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, then commanded by Ehud Barak, and he as a young commando in the unit was shot and wounded during the rescue. He said Israel must constantly fight against those who plan and perpetrate terrorism. “It will not stop if we do not fight it,” Netanyahu said.

Military sources said there was no prior warning of an impending attack on the popular resort town and no sirens were sounded to alert residents. A senior Home Front Command officer told Walla News that the IDF is considering linking Eilat to the “Color Red” advance warning system that operates in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.

“We aren’t kidding ourselves,” the senior officer told Walla. “With the fencing off of the Egyptian border and the weakened Egyptian sovereignty in the region, we will very likely experience novel types of attacks, including projectile fire from the Sinai peninsula.”

The midnight salvo was the first cross-border rocket attack from Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was deposed last year, but terrorists have attacked with more conventional means. Last August Palestinian terrorists murdered eight Israelis in a coordinated shooting attack after crossing into Israel from Sinai.

Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi told Channel 2 News that the city is open to visitors. “It’s obvious that the aim of the perpetrators is to disrupt our lives. It’s also obvious that we won’t let them,” said Halevi.

Halevi invited the public to come to Eilat during the Passover vacation.

Since 2006 Hamas has fired hundreds of 122mm Grad rockets into Israel. The rockets are believed to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels from Egypt.

Investigators have found that some of the Hamas Grads were a Chinese-made variant. Hamas is reportedly pleased by the performance of the Chinese Grads, which have a longer range and a bigger warhead than Palestinian-made rockets.

In the 2010 attacks on Eilat and Aqaba from Sinai, nine Grad rockets were used. Grads fired by Hamas and its proxies in Gaza have a range of about 40 km (25 mi), and can reach the Israeli towns of Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, Ofakim, Gedera, Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, Sderot, Rehovot, Kiryat Malachi, and Gan Yavne.