Israel Will Have to Retaliate for Gaza's Burning Kites Soon, Army Warns

The army is preparing for the possibility of a more severe response to the fires and is briefing U.S. military officials

A fire burns near kibbutz Gevaram, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, June 3, 2018.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Israeli military officials believe they will no longer be able to show restraint in the face of burning kites launched from the Gaza Strip, which have caused extensive damage to Israeli agricultural fields and forests near the border.

Firebombs tied to kites and balloons have caused blazes in agricultural fields and some have also carried explosive devices with the potential to harm civilians, troops and firefighters called to extinguish the fires.

>> Burning kites from Gaza cause widespread damage to Israeli fields

In what could be seen as Israel's possible preparations for a response, the military on Monday began briefing U.S. military commanders. Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar, deputy head of the Southern Command, toured the Gaza border with senior U.S. military officers and showed them the damage caused by the incendiary kites to the fields.

U.S. officials were briefed on the burning kites as well as the mass protests conducted by Palestinians in recent weeks along the Gaza border. The protest to mark Naksa Day – the annual day commemorating Arab forces defeated by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, and not to be confused with Nakba Day – is scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

At a meeting with lawmakers from his Yisrael Beiteinu party, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: "We will act according to Israel's interests" at a time convenient for Israel. "We will settle accounts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rest of the terrorists acting against us from the Gaza Strip," he said in the Knesset.  

Fire in Be'eri, Israel, June 2, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar and U.S. officers in the Gaza vicinity, June 4, 2018.
Yaniv Kubovich

Palestinians, for the most part, have been flying the kites at noon, when a western wind is at its strongest, in an effort to send the kites over a greater distance. Firefighters deployed along the Gaza border are being dispatched first to contain the fires as alerts come in.

Since the end of March, the Gaza border area has seen nearly 300 fires. Some 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of crops, mostly wheat, worth around five million shekels ($1.4 million), has burned. Beyond the agricultural damage, at least 2,100 dunams went up in flames in Jewish National Fund forests in the region, in addition to 5,000 to 4,000 dunams in the Besor Forest Nature Reserve and thousands of dunams of woodland and brushland in the area.

Lieberman said that 600 kites were flown from Gaza into Israel, with the military intercepting some 400 of them. The defense chief also said some 200 kites caused 198 fires, in which 9,000 dunams were burned.

Israeli firefighting plane in the Gaza vicinity, June 3, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz