Despite a claimed agreement to be quiet, Gazans continued to send kites and balloons on the prevailing winds to burn fields on the Israeli side of the border. They managed to blacken thousands of dunams (each a quarter acre) of farm land or scrub plus a third of a nature reserve with their primitive weapons while IDF experts and the Israeli government pondered a response.

 
It's one of many things in this chronic conflict that poses problems for Israeli calculations. 
 
As long as no Israeli lives have been lost or even injured by the fires, and the damage is only economic, there's a tendency to avoid a massive response. What came in response to rockets or crowds charging the border has not been used against those sending forth kites and balloons.
 
Against this is the calculation that tolerance may produce an image of Israel's weakness, which encourages more aggressive behavior.
 
Moreover, the damage is real, if not substantial enough to threaten Israel's existence. What other country would accept a fire bombing, even if only of fields or waste land? In the dry summers of the Middle East those fires demand a great deal of work to keep them from spreading to homes. And the loss of crops has been real, even if it hasn't overwhelmed the Israeli government's capacity to compensate the farmers.
 
The IDF downs most of the kites and balloons before they reach Israel, often with small drones. However, the minority that get through have the advantage of the dry fields, stubble, and wild vegetation that quickly ignites and spreads the fire. The Gazans who send the kites and balloons aloft do so behind children, who so far have served as their shields against IDF snipers. Or they send them from deep enough within Gaza to be protected from snipers on the border by terrain or buildings.
 
Associated with this is a chronic problem of agricultural terror in Israel and the West Bank, with Arab/Palestinian neighbors engaged in stealing and destroying, and Israelis taking the law into their own hands by destroying in retribution the crops and olive trees of their Arab neighbors. 
 
Israelis ministers have promised compensation, both to farmers living alongside Gaza and those in the West Bank and Galilee living alongside predators. 
 
It isn't a pretty picture, but it's part of what complicates any effort to make peace. .
 
The pressure may be building to do something. The cartoonist of Ma'ariv displayed a Gazan holding a kite in a way that mimics the iconic image of Netanyahu at the UN, holding an image showing how close the Iranians were to a nuclear weapon. The Gazan is showing the percentage of kites succeeding in burning Israeli fields.
 
The cartoonist of Ha'aretz portrayed a soldier manipulating one drone carrying a pail of water chasing a number of burning kites. 
 
Israel avoided a forceful confrontation with the launchers of kites and balloons, and waitfor a greater confrontation with a proclaimed heightened march to the border to coincide with Gaza's anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967. As always, the celebration of a historic Arab disaster is an occasion for more Arab deaths that might elevate Gaza's international standing. 
 
The great demonstration didn't come on the anniversary of the Six Day War. Then it was promised for the last Friday of Ramadan. 
 
In case the plans for the anniversary of 1967 and the last Friday of Ramadan fizzled, the Hamas leadership was already threatening that later marches toward the border would be greater than anything seen till then.
 
Hamas billed its Friday event as a march of a million. Actually, an estimated 10,000, maybe 12,000 caused their commotion near the border. By way of comparison, earlier in the day, estimates reached 250,000 for those marching for the sake of gay pride in Tel Aviv.
 
Four Gazans died from Israeli snipers on this occasion and a couple of hundred suffered injuries. 
 
That compares to the 60 or so killed when an estimated 40,000 went toward the border a few weeks ago.
 
Indications are that Gazans are tired of being provoked by their leaders to charge the fence and reach Jerusalem.
 
Some time ago, Gazans claimed that a young woman medic had been killed by Israeli gun fire. The IDF's inquiry found that none of its gunfire had been directed at the area where the woman was killed. 
 
The finding may not persuade those convinced about Israel evil. However, it's possible that on this occasion as on others (e.g;, the death of a journalist) the action was done by Hamas, deliberately, in order to produce an iconic casualty to aid its campaign.

We've heard that Iran is behind all of this, providing money as well as directives to Hamas.
 
Iranians are also threatening to renew their enrichment of uranium. This brought some bombast from the Israel Minister of Transportation and Minister of Intelligence, Yisrael Katz, saying that Iranian actions reflected its weakness, and that Israel plus allies would assure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons.
 
Israeli cynics wondered if the threats from their side were at the same level of emptiness as those of Hamas.


Israelis agree that Gaza is a mess, and that it's threatening to Israel. The threat comes less from Gazan aggression than from the disease and pollution that could threaten Israelis' health. 


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Getting in the way of any help that Israel can--and has--offered, is the persistent hatred coming from the Gazan leadership, and its strategy of making things worse.


The focus on Iran may be part of the explanation for Israel's reluctance to up the ante in Gaza. We also hear from the IDF that they don't have a solution for the low-cost kites and balloons, sent from where the snipers cannot shoot those sending them toward Israel.


There are solutions, e.g., the escalation of targeted killing of leaders involved in the incitement, or even the disregard for civilian casualties while bombarding sites from which the homemade missiles are launched. However, at least for the time being, these are solutions not being considered.


So far, it's been easier to deal with the fires. And Israel may be seeking credit in the fuzziness of international public opinion, rather than another blot for the alleged killing of the alleged innocent.


We hear that Arab governments and commentators are critical of Hamas and its sacrifice of young people for questionable political gains. European commentators and politicians have been on the side of the Gazans, complaining about israeli overreaction.


So far, Israel has been wary about provoking the Europeans. As the fires continue, however, the pressure on Israeli military and political personnel may produce a sharper response, in the mood of having enough evidence of aggression to either convince the Europeans or to ignore them.


We'll see how this develops.


Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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