In Israel’s Eilat, residents fear war from the north and south

People who have evacuated to the southern Israeli port hunker down and wait for war to reach them.

Birds fly in the sky as a rocket is launched
For representational purposes only: Birds fly as a rocket is launched from Israel's Iron Dome air defence system to intercept attacks from Gaza City in Sderot on May 10, 2023 [Jack Guez/AFP]

Eilat, Israel – Piercing air raid sirens ring out over the Israeli port city on the Red Sea.

Fighter jets thundered in the blue skies above on Saturday.

A man pushing his child in a pram, unsure which way to go, rushed for shelter under the overhanging concrete entrance of a closed shopping mall.

A heavily sunburned man stood up from his sunlounger on an empty beach and looked up to see if he could catch a glimpse of the drama unfolding above; he picked up his towel but hesitates, unsure whether to run for cover or continue soaking in the morning rays.

A Russian woman and two Israeli men took cover beside a crumbling, derelict brick house.

“This is Yemen,” one of the men said, pointing at the sky. The Israeli air force, he said, is trying to intercept missiles fired across the Red Sea.

The sound of aircraft wrestling with the threat in the sky and the lack of bomb shelters were in stark contrast to other Israeli cities, like Tel Aviv, where residents face regular rocket attacks from Gaza and are well-rehearsed at going to the nearest shelter to wait for the Iron Dome systems to intercept incoming projectiles.

In Eilat, the risk came from Houthi rebels in Yemen firing missiles and drones from across the Red Sea – they were intercepted and destroyed before they could hit their targets.

The city sits on the narrow southern tip of Israel, sandwiched between Jordan and Egypt, about 50km (31 miles) from Saudi Arabia.

Man on the beach walking into water
The Eilat beach on the morning of November 4, 2023 [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

A popular tourist resort with rows of high-rise hotels, it has also become home to Ukrainians and Russians who left their countries after the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022.

Across the harbour, a large Jordanian flag is clearly visible over the city of Aqaba, where thousands of Eilat’s tourism workers come from.

‘This war will last a long time’

Nacham Naim moved with his family to Eilat from his home near Gaza after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israeli army outposts and surrounding villages on October 7.

Naim lost one of his best friends in the attack, which has left him deeply traumatised. He said that although he feels safer in the port city, there is still a threat from Yemen looming over them.

His sister, Liat Naim, added that, with an increased threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon from the north, this feels like a greater regional war where Israel is surrounded by hostile actors.

Wherever they move in the country, they will not feel completely safe, she said. “You can feel it in your gut; this war will last a long time.”

Hea, 31, who came to Eilat to give her children a break from the constant air raid siren alerts around their home near the Gaza Strip, said: “I am not safe here, as well. You can see, Yemen strikes here, nowhere is safe.”

Waterfront Eilat looking towards the mountains of Jordan
Jordan’s hills are visible from Eilat, on November 4, 2023 [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

A white-haired man with a pistol strapped to his hip and an Israeli flag stuck to his T-shirt sleeve, who did not want to be named, was operating a vertical lift bridge in the city’s centre.

Crowds of people, many of whom were evacuated from the areas around Gaza on October 7, waited while a boat with a long mast sailed through the narrow waterway.

For now, the risk to the city is negligible compared with other places in Israel, he said, as the rockets fired from Yemen can take more than an hour to reach their target. US warships in the Red Sea and Israeli air forces have ample opportunity to shoot them down.

The risk may be low now, he said with a dismissive shrug, but if Hezbollah attacks in the north while Yemen attacks at the same time, it could be a “catastrophe” for the country.

The Israeli military later announced the air raid alert had been raised on Saturday morning after its “systems detected a suspicious target approaching Israeli territory”.

Source: Al Jazeera