Israeli defense officials consider the recent wave of incendiary balloons sent over from Gaza a serious transgression, but are trying to avoid a harsh response against Hamas that could trigger an escalation.
At this stage, defense officials still prefer to give mediation efforts that Qatar and other countries have undertaken a chance to restore calm.
However, the officials are mindful that the explosive-laden balloons undermine the sense of personal safety of the residents of Israeli communities near the border with the Hamas-controlled Strip. The expectation is that, if the incendiary balloons continue to be launched across the border, the Israeli army will be forced to step up its response.
On Wednesday, fire and rescue services reported that roughly 60 fires in the Gaza border region had been brought under control. The fires have not caused any personal injury but some property damage has resulted, fire services said. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported 20 separate fire outbreaks in the Bitronot Be’eri nature reserve in the area, which have burned 700 dunams (175 acres) of land in the reserve.
Defense officials estimate that Gaza residents are dissatisfied with Hamas. An erosion of what the militant group views as its achievements in its confrontation with Israel could spark criticism of Hamas among Gazans. It could also bolster the position of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which supports increased military action against Israel. Israeli security officials believe that international mediation efforts, leading to economic assistance to Gaza and an infusion of cash from Qatar would strengthen Hamas’ control of the territory.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “The balloon terrorism will exact a very heavy price.”
Speaking during a tour of the Hatzor air force base in the south, Netanyahu said: “We will not tolerate this. We will act and exact a high price. We have done so in the past. They would do well to remember this, because we will do it again now. It’s important for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to see the tough results of this trouble.”
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Defense Minister Benny Gantz has warned that if Hamas does not put a halt to the balloons, Israel will respond forcefully.
Over the weekend, Hamas sources said the balloon bombs were launched in response to the stalemate in contacts with Israel. A senior Hamas official told Haaretz that it is a reflection of increasing anger in Gaza and “a desire to convey a message.” On Thursday, Israel struck Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip, which the army said was in response to the balloons.