Why Palestinian armed groups use incendiary balloons against Israel

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In the last week, the Israeli army has twice bombed buildings in the Gaza Strip, for the first time since the truce stipulated a month ago following the brief war in May. The Israeli army attacks were a response to the launch of incendiary balloons towards the Israeli territories by the armed groups of the Strip. The incendiary balloons were launched by militiamen from small armed groups in Gaza, with the intent of causing fires and damage to agricultural fields and the southern territories of Israel.

Incendiary balloons are a very rudimentary weapon and rather simple to build, but they can do considerable damage. It is not the first time that Palestinian militiamen have used this type of weapon to strike Israel, and in the past they had resorted to a similar weapon, incendiary kites, which however had provoked less violent reactions from the Israeli side.

This week’s balloon launch was in turn a response to a nationalist demonstration organized by the Israeli right in Jerusalem on Tuesday to commemorate the conquest of the city in 1967 after the Six Day War. The demonstration was supposed to take place last month, but was canceled because it was feared that it could fuel the clashes.

So far this week, however, neither the incendiary balloons of the Palestinian armed groups nor the bombings of the Israeli army have caused deaths, but only damage to buildings and agricultural fields.

How incendiary balloons are made
These are normal inflatable balloons filled with helium and knotted together in groups, to which a piece of cloth impregnated with flammable material is tied to which it is set on fire. The balloons are flown over the border with Israel using the winds that blow towards the land from the Mediterranean Sea.

Palestinian militiamen preparing some incendiary balloons on June 16 (Fatima Shbair / Getty Images)

Once they arrive in Israeli territory, they cause large fires, since the border area with the Strip is very arid and consists largely of agricultural land and nature reserves. Thanks to the wind, however, they can also reach residential areas and cause damage to buildings and injuries. According to Israeli newspapers, the balloons launched on Tuesday caused at least 40 fires in southern Israel, while those launched on Thursday caused 8. In both cases there were no injuries.

An Israeli army spokesman said more than 4,200 hectares of land have been burned in Israel since 2018 due to incendiary weapons such as balloons and kites, not counting the damage from the past week.

Why balloons and not rockets?
The primary weapons used by Palestinian militiamen to attack Israel are short-range rockets, generally fired from the ground and directed to the ground, and unguided, unlike Israeli missiles which are guided. About four thousand were launched in the May conflict: 90 percent were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which calculates the trajectory of a short-range rocket from the moment it is launched from Gaza, almost instantly predicting whether it is headed for a populated area.

It is not known exactly how many rockets Palestinian armed groups have been in possession in recent years, considering the embargo imposed by Israel on the territory of the Strip, but according to Israeli intelligence they have about 30 thousand rockets and mortar shells. Rockets are often built directly inside the Strip and, as seen in May, are almost always intercepted by Israel. Balloons, on the other hand, are cheap and simple to make, and can easily cause damage to Israeli territories. It is not as serious damage as rockets can cause, but it still serves to put pressure on Israel.

What does the new prime minister think
The bombings of Israel in response to the launch of the incendiary balloons are the first decided by the new right-wing government led by Naftali Bennett, who took office on Sunday after Benjamin Netanyahu’s twelve-year mandate. In recent years, Bennett had criticized Netanyahu a lot for his poor response to ballooning from Gaza, saying he should have taken a tougher stance against Hamas, the main Palestinian armed group, and that the Israeli army should have responded in the same way. in which it responds to rocket fire.

In 2018, when he was Minister of Education, Bennett said that the military should “shoot to kill” anyone who threw these incendiary weapons over the border of the Strip. “If anyone sends incendiary balloons from Gaza, we should shoot to kill. We need to strategically shoot those who send incendiary balloons from Gaza. We didn’t address this when it was still small, and now thousands of kites are being sent to us. In the end, we will do what we should have done six months ago, but with interest ».

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