A Katyusha rocket fired from neighboring Jordan landed near the airport in the southern town of Eilat around 8:45 a.m. Friday. No injuries were reported in the attack but a car was damaged.
The rocket created a small crater in the road, about 15 meters (approximately 50 feet) from the airport fence, local police commander Avi Asulin said. "The connection between the blasts in Jordan and the Katyusha fired at Eilat is being examined," he said.
At about the same time, two rockets were fired at an American ship, the USS Ashland, which was docked at Aqaba. A military hospital was also targeted.
Scene of the Katyusha attack in Eilat (Photo: Meir Ohayon)
The rockets narrowly missed the vessels, hitting a warehouse on the pier.
A Jordanian soldier was killed, and a second soldier was injured.
Police officials estimate the attacks mark a terrorist attempt to stage a coordinated strike.
An Al Qaeda affiliated group, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Syria and Egypt, said in a statement released immediately after the attack that it was behind the rockets.
"A group of our mujahideen have targeted U.S. vessels in Jordan and (Israel's) Eilat port with three Katyusha rockets before safely returning to their base," said the group’s statement.
"Zionists are a legitimate target and we warn the Americans, who are spreading their corruption throughout the world and who have stolen the wealth of the Muslim nation, to expect even more stinging attacks.
"This is our debut operation in Jordan. And as we have begun to destroy the throne of the Egyptian tyrant, we warn the Jordanian tyrant to release our jailed brothers and voluntarily abdicate before we force you to go."
Immediately after the attack, the two U.S. amphibious assault ships, which had been on a joint training exercise with the Jordanian navy, weighed anchor and headed for the safety of open water.
Meanwhile, security authorities in Eilat brought takeoffs and landings at the airport to a halt for a short period of time, while the Katyusha rocket was being removed from the scene. Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi and other local officials met with security officials to assess the situation.
An eyewitness in Eilat said: I was on my way to the sea when I heard a quiet whistle followed by an explosion, while stones flew up in the air around a vehicle."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told reported Israeli and Jordanian security officials are cooperating, but added authorities still do not know who was behind the rocket fire.
"We are certain the Jordanians are also acting to thwart such attacks," he said. "There were no prior warnings regarding this specific case, but we're alert."
Eilat’s mayor, Yizhak Levi, told Ynet, “following a situation analysis conducted with security officials, we concluded that the targets were U.S. war ships in the Aqaba ports, and the rocket that landed in Eilat was off target."
"The city is going on as usual, all roads are now open, and following a check I did with hotels, there are no cancellations. Eilat is happy,” said Levi.
But Levi added that he was still “worried, and I hope that we were not the targets. I leave the security analysis to the authorities. Our neighbors (the Jordanians) also have an interest in peace and quiet. If international terrorist groups are intending on harming Eilat, they must be defeated.”
U.S. military: Rocket missed ship
Meanwhile, Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Yuval Shteinitz told Ynet the attack should be viewed as a one-time occurrence.
"As opposed to the Egyptians, the Jordanians cooperate with Israel in the war on terror and cooperation with them is excellent," he said. "Therefore, I don't think it's a new phenomenon we'll be seeing often, but rather, a one-time incident."
Earlier, at least one Jordanian soldier was killed and another one was wounded after two rockets were fired at U.S. vessels docked in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. American military officials said the attackers fired at least one rocket at a U.S. military ship, but the missile missed the vessel and hit a nearby warehouse and a hospital instead.
A Jordanian military source said Private Ahmad Alnajdawi, who had been standing guard at the warehouse, was killed.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said one missile narrowly missed the USS Ashland, an amphibious warfare ship that is designed to transport Marines and to launch assault landing craft and helicopters.
“I can confirm that a rocket flew over the bow of USS Ashland and the rocket impacted in the roof of a warehouse. No sailors or Marines were injured,” Commander Jeff Breslau of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain told Reuters.
“It’s pretty safe to conclude that they were probably trying to hit one or both of the ships,” he said.
A Jordanian security source said authorities were searching for three men in connection with the Katyusha missile attack, which was launched from an industrial warehouse area near the entrance to the city.
“We are searching for a Syrian and two Iraqis who are in Aqaba and used Kuwaiti number plates,” the source said.
Jordan’s Red Sea resort, once a sleepy port, has seen a surge in tourism and investment in recent years in part because it is seen as safe haven. It is also logistics hub for Iraq, used by the U.S. military and for moving commodities.
Two U.S. Military vessels have been docked in the port for the past 10 days, witnesses said.