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Tensions rise on Gaza border

What happened: There were 60 fires reported yesterday along the Gaza-Israel border caused by incendiary balloons sent from inside the Gaza Strip.

  • The fires damaged hundreds of acres of woodland in the Beeri Forest. This week has seen fires in several other locations across the Eshkol Regional Council, near Kibbutz Kissufim, in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, Kibbutz Nahal Oz and Kibbutz Erez. There were no reports of any casualties, though the fires forced the evacuation of a number of Bedouin families living in the area.
  • The fires were extinguished by a combination of the fire-service, the army and local volunteers.
  • Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned: “I would like to make it clear to all of Iran’s proxies, including in Gaza: Balloon terrorism will have a heavy price. We will not tolerate this. We will take action and exact a heavy price. They should remember that we have done this in the past, because we will do it now as well … we view this with utmost gravity and you will see the results of this very quickly. It is more important that Hamas and Islamic Jihad see the harsh implications of this ordeal.”
  • Similarly, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel would respond “forcefully” if the activity didn’t stop. Gantz said: “In the South, Hamas is continuing to enable explosive balloon attacks to be launched into the State of Israel. We are not prepared to accept that and have closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing as a result … they would do well to stop violating Israel’s safety and security. If that doesn’t happen, we will need to respond, and forcefully.”
  • While the Kerem Shalom crossing has been closed by Israel in retaliation for the fires, the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, closed in April due to the coronavirus, has reopened for three days, allowing Gazans to leave the strip for the first time in months.
  • Last night the IDF attacked Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a statement that combat planes, helicopter gunships and tanks attacked a military compound, underground infrastructure and observation posts. The statement concluded that Hamas is responsible for the acts of terrorism that are aimed against Israeli citizens. No injuries were reported on the Palestinian side.

Context: Despite Israeli threats to intensify air strikes, Hamas has chosen to expand the use of incendiary balloons as a means of applying pressure on Israel and Qatar to continue its financial aid into the Gaza Strip.

  • Local leaders in the Gaza periphery communities issued a joint statement: “The rule for an explosive balloon needs to be the same rule as for a rocket. The rule for flying balloons needs to be the same rule for a security escalation. We demand that the Israeli government set its differences of opinion aside and provide a permanent security solution for the residents of the Gaza periphery communities and Sderot.”
  • Kerem Shalom is the major crossing for goods entering Gaza from Israel. For now, only vital humanitarian equipment and fuel will be permitted to enter the Gaza Strip.
  • Qatar’s funds have been a key component of an informal ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas. Israeli media reports that Mossad is in talks with Qatari officials to extend their aid, which is due to run out next month.
  • As well as the explosive balloons, this week Hamas test fired several rockets into the sea as a show of force, and on Sunday morning it shoot towards civilian workers constructing the security barrier on the border.

Looking ahead: For the first time Israel is deploying the “Lahav Or” Light Blade laser system on the Gaza border. The system is designed to intercept airborne incendiary threats, and is the first defence system of its kind in the world. The Light Blade system has a laser capable of engaging targets within a range of 2 km, day or night. Once the system locks onto its target it fires a unique laser beam at it. If the target is a balloon or a kite, it incinerates it mid-air. If the target is a drone, the laser burns parts of it until it crashes.

  • The IDF is taking a calibrated approach, depending on the intensity of the balloons launched or any other attacks and is prepared to ratchet up its response accordingly.

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