For the third day running, powerful rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza – this time, one that appeared bound for the city's popular beachfront area was intercepted by an anti-missile rocket fired from Israel's Iron Dome system deployed outside Tel Aviv just this morning.
It appeared to shoot down the incoming missile in the sky over Jaffa at the south end of the metropolis. And it appeared that the rocket-propelled war head, burning white in the sky, had enough elevation to reach the north end of the beach, had it not been intercepted.
"The one yesterday landed right out there," said Asaf Rottenberg, manager of the popular La La Land Restaurant on the edge of the sand. He pointed to a spot just 200-300 meters offshore.
Mr. Rottenberg was just explaining why the Saturday afternoon crowd was sparser than usual for a 30C, even in November.
"A lot of people are nervous," he said, referring to the recent Hamas rocket attacks that have struck as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, "and they know they can't likely get to cover if there is an attack."
"The first day [Thursday], everyone just ran around – they didn't know what to do. So yesterday we met and decided the only safe place was the washroom just next door."
He no sooner had he said that, when the warning siren sounded, and Mr. Assaf shouted for his staff to direct everyone to the washrooms.
The few people who were on the beach ran toward the facility but many never made it inside. The men and women's facilities were quickly overflowing with people.
Outside, a handful of customers stayed eating their meals and sipping their beer. While, on the beach, a pair of men kept playing paddle tennis through it all.
The crowd was so sparse Saturday only two such games could be seen under way before the alert – highly unusual for the ubiquitous Israeli beach activity.
"We used to call Tel Aviv 'the bubble,'" Mr. Assaf said. "Nothing could hit us – Not any more."
People gathered round after the episode, talking of nothing else.
Tourists from Germany and Switzerland said they were very worried.
"We arrived on Thursday" said Chris Fisher, with his wife, Danielle, from Frankfurt "And we've had a red alert every day."
He said that today they ran for the washroom but could not get in. "We made it to door," he said.
Did he feel more confident since the Iron Dome had shot down the missile? "No, not at all," he replied coldly.
"I'm still a little shaky," said Sara Hatar, 30, a secretary at the nearby Dan Hotel. "I'm glad we [Israelis] shot it down, but I know they can't get 100 per cent of them."
Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim to be making their own version of Iran's Fajr5, the only rocket believed to be in the Palestinian groups' arsenal with the range to hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, about 75 km from Gaza.
If they are making their own versions of such rockets, they may be able to continue to produce them despite the Israeli missile attacks on the groups' facilities in Gaza.
As people began to stick their heads out of the Tel Aviv washrooms, a heavy rain began to fall, also unusual here for mid November.
That certainly emptied the beach. Even the final pair of paddle tennis players ran for cover.
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