At Cairo’s request, Islamist movement to rein in balloon bomb attacks from Gaza
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, has, according to sources, accepted an Egyptian request to prevent the firing of balloons and kites carrying improvised explosive devices into Israel.
Cairo applied the pressure in an effort to prevent an escalation between Israel and Hamas, after Gazans on January 15 renewed their IED balloon attacks. Gunmen in the Strip first employed incendiary balloons in 2018, and they have burned thousands of acres of fields in southwestern Israel. In the winter, they generally attach bombs to balloons; in warmer months, they also use Molotov cocktails, sometimes tying them to kites rather than balloons.
No official statement was issued by Hamas or Cairo on the matter, and Hamas spokesman in Gaza Hazem Qassem declined to comment when reached by The Media Line. However, a source close to the Palestinian factions in Gaza, who asked that his name be withheld, confirmed to The Media Line the change. “Egypt asked Hamas and other political parties in the Strip to stop the fire balloons in order to calm the situation, in return for specific undertakings.”
The source added, “They approved the request in response to the Egyptian efforts.”
Alon Davidi, the mayor of Sderot, told The Media Line that he condemned any kind of terrorist attacks against the citizens of Israel, including residents of his city and Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
“I call on the Israeli government to wake up and give a powerful response to the terror organizations in Gaza that try to harm innocent citizens on a daily basis with the exploding balloons of terror,” Davidi said. “This terror aims to harm our kids!”
Sderot at its closest point is three-quarters of a mile from the Gaza Strip.
Israel had repeatedly warned Hamas that if the balloon attacks continue, a military escalation is possible. Additionally, the security establishment has been concerned that Hamas would try to disrupt this week’s gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem commemorating the Holocaust. Israel sent a message to Hamas that “if it sabotages the summit, Israel will not hesitate to respond strongly.”
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a Gaza-based political analyst and writer, told The Media Line that the due to “the Israeli procrastination in implementing what has been agreed upon [to ensure a ‘calm’ with Gaza] through the Egyptians, the Palestinian resistance had to deal with the issue through various tools to pressure the Israeli side and the mediators as well.
“The occupation [Israel] is delaying the implementation of matters agreed on such as increasing the exports from Gaza, and the entry of dual-use items [materials that can be used both for military and civilian purposes],” he elaborated, “as well as the opening of an industrial area near Beit Hanoun [on the Strip’s northeastern border with Israel] to workers, and the employment of 350,000 of them in projects.”
Sawaf said that “the greater the procrastination, the greater the pressure [on Israel] will be, especially to deliver a message to the cease-fire brokers that the situation is on the verge of collapse [into escalated violence].”
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, told The Media Line that because of the tense situation, if Hamas did anything that crossed Israeli red lines, the reaction could be powerful and large in scale. This held true “even if Hamas did it by mistake, so it should be careful,” he said.
Amidror added, “I don’t know [why Hamas agreed to stop the launch of explosive balloons and kites], but it comes as part of the indirect talks between Hamas and Israel, where maybe they differ over details of the agreement, after the kidnapping of Israelis in the Strip. Anyhow, Israel has lived with terror for the past 72 years [since independence], but we can manage it [the situation].”
Three Israeli men are being held in Gaza: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima. All of them are suffering from mental illness and entered the Strip separately and on their own. Mengistu is a Jew of Ethiopian descent; Sayed and Abu Ghanima are Bedouin. The bodies of two slain soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, have also been held as bargaining chips in Gaza since 2014.
In 2018, Israel developed a technology to fight the new phenomenon of incendiary kites and balloons, using a laser system to shoot them down before they strike. Nevertheless, the attacks have caused heavy fire damage to agricultural fields and nature reserves near Gaza.
Moeen al-Taher, a Jordanian-Palestinian political analyst and writer for the Institute for Palestine Studies in Amman, told The Media Line that the current situation, where the situation in Gaza swings from calm to escalation to explosion and back again, comes “because Israel is unable to decide on its policy regarding Hamas.”
He explained that Israel linked lifting the “siege” on the Strip to an end to violence from Gaza and other demands related to prisoners and weapons, which were controversial points. “Due to the instability of the government in Israel, no political party takes a final decision on war or peace, or even regarding a prisoner swap deal, as that would affect whoever makes it [the decision] in the coming [March 2 Israeli] election.”
Taher said that whenever the pressure and the blockade on Hamas strengthens, the latter resort to tactics like the Great March of Return border protests and rockets and fire balloon launches, and “then Egypt intervenes before things collapse [into a full-blown war with Israel], and this is how things continue on.”