Palestinians in central Gaza fly a kite loaded with flammable material to be thrown at Israel.
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the IDF after Sunday’s security cabinet meeting to “put an end to the kite terrorism.” While an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire led to an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli retaliatory strikes, it did not stop the incendiary kites and balloons that caused at least six fires during the day.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who is a member of the security cabinet, said immediately following the meeting that Israel will extract a price from Hamas for sending flammable balloons and kites to Israel, just as it extracts a price when it fires rockets.
The IAF targeted a couple of cells on Sunday dispatching the aerial weapons toward Israel.
Katz told Army Radio that while the kites and balloons are not rockets, Israel is not willing to allow its citizens or their property to be harmed – and has now set a clear policy that if Hamas sends these kites toward Israel, they “will pay a price, just as they pay a price for firing rockets.”
The security cabinet met on this issue following a weekend when over 200 rockets were fired toward Israel.
Soon after the ceasefire went into effect early Sunday morning, Hamas said that it covered rockets and mortars, but not balloons and kites.
Netanyahu made clear at the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel did not in any way accept that interpretation.
“I heard it being said that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons: this is incorrect. We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately,” he said.
Katz said that the meaning of the security cabinet decision is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad “erred” if they thought that Israel would not respond to the incendiary kites and balloons.
Referring to the extensive IDF action over the weekend in response to the rocket fire, Katz said that Israel made it clear that it would not agree to any type of terrorism, “not rockets, mortars, kites, balloons or anything else against the communities near Gaza.”
Katz was less clear in the interview, however, whether this meant that the IDF would – as Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been urging – open fire on those sending the kites and balloons. He said that the authority for when and how to open fire rests exclusively with chief of staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot.
Katz also said that there was a distinction between prevention and response.
Eisenkot, Katz said, has the prerogative on how to prevent the kites and balloons, but as far as the response is concerned, the security cabinet’s decision is that there will be a response against Hamas assets every time a kite or balloon sets fields or property in Israel on fire.
Bennett, before the cabinet meeting, said that a “cease fire without ending the fire from terrorism is not deterrence, it is surrender.’ He said that both he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who are both from Bayit Yehudi, will oppose any cease fire that allows Hamas to continue launching kites and balloons toward Israel.
Later in the day at the security cabinet meeting, Bennett challenged Eisenkot on this matter. According to quotes that were leaked out from the meeting, Bennett asked why the IDF does not fire directly at anyone who launches anything into the air against Israel, saying that there is no legal basis not to do so.
Eisenkot reportedly replied that he did not think it was right to shoot at “children and youth who are often the ones launching” the kites and balloons.
Bennett responded by asking what if those launching the balloons were adults, to which Eisenkot asked in response, “Are you suggesting that we drop a bomb on a cell that is launching kites and balloons?” When Bennett answered in the affirmative, Eisenkot replied that this runs contrary to his professional judgement and his values.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly took both Bennett and Katz to task inside the security cabinet meeting for criticizing the IDF’s handling of the situation in Gaza, saying that he is asking them not to “open fire on the IDF.”
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz was quoted as saying at the meeting that the media was exaggerating the scope of the fires, and that Israel was not “burning down,” a sentiment Netanyahu agreed with, reportedly adding that the media was presenting a “distorted” picture of the situation.
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