Winds of war: Will kite and balloon fires spark a major conflict in Gaza?

Children’s toys and other ‘creative alternatives’ are being used by Gazans to ravage hundreds of hectares of land in the South, and the IDF doesn’t know what to do about it.

A kite flies over the border in an area where kites and balloons have caused blazes, between Israel and the Gaza strip June 8, 2018.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
A kite flies over the border in an area where kites and balloons have caused blazes, between Israel and the Gaza strip June 8, 2018.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Since March 30 over 1,000 hectares of Israeli fields, forests and agricultural land have been ravaged by fires. They were caused not by rockets, bombs or other conventional forms of warfare, but by kites, balloons and inflated condoms lit and launched from the Gaza Strip.
These simple devices, not launched by the deadly Hamas terrorist group but by young children and teenagers, have confounded the IDF.
Palestinians have taken pieces of plastic – some with Hebrew writing, others with pictures of Palestinians killed by IDF fire – bound them to flexible wood from palm trees and attached burning embers or rags soaked in car oil, before launching them toward Israel.
Explosive balloons and condoms have also been launched toward Israel, and have landed on major highways and on trees in the college city of Sderot and other smaller Gaza vicinity communities.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the idea of incendiary kites came after a Palestinian organizer saw “a kite with the Palestinian flag attached to its tail lying on the other side of the fence.”
“We thought that maybe it could carry something else, like a Molotov cocktail, but realized it wasn’t practical,” 30-year-old Rami was quoted by the paper as saying.“Then we got the idea of setting it aflame... by the time we managed to develop the flame and people saw scenes of the burning fields on the other side, the guys got excited.”
When the kites first started to appear in Israeli skies, the army allowed them to land, unsure what damage could come of them. But as more and more flew in and the fields and forests of southern Israel went up in flames, the IDF deployed drones to cut the cords of the kites and, according to Walla! News, called up reservists in the Home Front Command to battle the blazes alongside civilian firefighters.
The military also fired warning shots by unmanned aerial vehicles toward groups of Palestinians preparing the incendiary devices, in an attempt to deter them from being launched.
But they kept on coming, drifting eastward on Mediterranean winds to land in Israel and spark new fires.
While the damage caused by these devices has been contained to fields, forests and wildlife – with no human casualties so far – public pressure is mounting on the Israeli government and IDF to respond.
On Tuesday night Israeli jets struck three Hamas military assets in the Gaza Strip, which led to Hamas firing some 45 mortar shells and rockets toward Israeli communities. In response to the largest barrage of projectiles in a month, Israel carried out three waves of air strikes, hitting 25 Hamas targets across the Strip.
It was a clear change of policy for the terrorist group, which governs the impoverished Strip and has allowed the kites to be launched. In the past four years since Operation Protective Edge, the group has allowed a drizzle of rockets to be launched at Israel, all the while cracking down and arresting those firing the projectiles.
On Sunday the army – seemingly bowing to public pressure and pressure from some cabinet ministers who have called on the IDF to treat the incendiary kites launched by youth as being akin to rocket fire launched by Palestinian terrorist groups – launched air strikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.
“These are terrorist attacks that endanger the residents of southern Israel,” the IDF said in a statement following the strikes.
Because those who launch these kites, balloons and condoms tend to be young children or teenagers, the IDF has so far not targeted any of them. But if the phenomenon continues and leads to the loss of life in Israel, the IDF may decide to target key adult operatives behind the explosive trend.
In a message that targeted killings may be an option currently being weighed by the IDF, Israeli jets on Sunday also struck the empty car of one of the leaders responsible for sending incendiary kites and balloons from the northern Gaza Strip.
Gazans have been protesting along the border with Israel since March 30 as part of what organizers have called the “Great March of Return.” About 130 Palestinian protesters have been killed by IDF fire and thousands more wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials have said that the protests, which also demand an end to a grinding Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza, would continue.
On Thursday senior Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the incendiary kites “are popular work” for Palestinians youths and a protest against the blockade of the Strip, tweeting that “the only way to stop it is accepting the demands of the March of Return, especially the ending of the siege on Gaza.”
For several months Israeli defense officials have been examining ways to improve the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, in an effort to avoid a violent escalation that could lead to yet another deadly war.
But as they continue to discuss ways to alleviate the situation, for the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Strip, the kites are their “creative alternative” to the 12-year blockade imposed on them by Egypt and Israel, and more recently joined by the Palestinian Authority.
With no other way to express their anger, both at those besieging them and at Hamas, which rules over them, these children and young adults have gone outside and launched flaming kites toward Israeli fields.
And for the Israeli farmers and residents of the South, there is concern that the next round of deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas will be caused by simple toys launched by bored and angry children.
“The army is doing all that it can; but against the kites, there is nothing they can do, because they won’t shoot at children. So we here in the area – there is nothing, nothing to do against the kites which are burning our fields,” Jehan Berman from the southern Israeli community of Avshalom told The Jerusalem Post.
“We tell our children not to approach the balloons and kites. They are not happy things for kids anymore. It’s sad.”
“The solution has to come from the state and not the army. The state has to do everything to get rid of Hamas. It’s a Palestinian problem,” Berman said. “It doesn’t matter how many bombs we drop on Gaza; Palestinians need to get rid of Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they are suffering like we are from them.”
According to Berman, who spent Tuesday night in a bomb shelter with his wife and two young children, unless Israel along with the international community work to rid Gaza of Hamas and other terrorist groups such as Islamic jihad, “we are heading to war.”
“Four years ago [Operation Protective Edge] began the same way as it is now. Despite both sides not wanting another conflict, the high tensions led to war.... The escalation of violence is scary.”