3. Gaza 2108 – (b) The Air War: Tactics and Casualties

Though after Nakba Day on 15 May, attacks against Israel have continued, they were largely not attempts to breach the fence and kill Israelis; their aim was property destruction. Following the Palestinian relative success with kite fires during the six weeks of direct combat from the time the first flaming kite landed on Kibbutz Nahal Oz on 13 April starting a fire there, Gazans increased and improved their use of white fiery kites with fluffy tails and possibly Molotov cocktails attached to send into Israeli territory. They were intended to set fire to Israeli fields.

One set fire to 70% of the natural habitat and green landscape of the Be’eri Crater Reserve adjacent to the Gaza border located between Kibbutz Alumim and Kibbutz Be’eri a once blooming landscape that served as a nature reserve for wildlife and an outstanding example of making the desert bloom turning most of the reserve into a black biomass with much of the wildlife and the green vegetation speckled with roses destroyed from the “Kite Terror”.

Drones with knives were developed by the Israelis to cut the kite strings. That method destroyed 40 burning or Molotov kites before they reached Israel. A more recent innovation has been the mobilization of drone-racers to send drones, especially Pegasus 120s, to ram the fiery kites. For border communities, the kite war was real terror.

Israel also used kites, but not to land in Gaza. Nor were they burning. Nor did they have Molotov cocktails attached. They were flown very high on 12 May in a demonstration in Sderot in Israel just north of the Gaza border. At the demonstration, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) and Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Bayit Hayehudi) gave speeches. Families had picnics. The shofar was sounded loud enough for Gazans to hear. The demonstration was held to let Gazans know that Israelis had not forgotten that Hamas still held the bodies of two dead Israeli soldiers who had been killed during a previous ceasefire; the bodies have been hidden somewhere in Gaza since 2014. Hamas refused to release the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Since the incendiary kite war started on 13 April, over 300 fiery kites were sent into Israel. At least 100 fires were started in the Kissufim and Be’eri forests, Kibbutzim Nir Oz, Kerem Shalom, Sufa, Kfar Aza, Sa’ad, Mefalsim, Erez, and Gevim. In spite of the drone counterattack, enough kites got through to land on farmers’ fields and start fires causing millions of shekels in damage, for example, destroying 3,000 acres of wheat.

On 25 and 26 May, six fires were started in Israel using the latest most successful methods causing severe damage to Israeli farmers’ crops. The Israeli Agriculture Minister, Uri Ariel, called for maiming rather than killing those who were preparing or who sent fiery kites into Israel even if they were more than 300 metres from the fence. Shoot them in the legs or knees, he advised.

“We are human beings and they are human beings and we do not shoot in order to kill. I think that in order to deter it is enough to shoot at the legs; it has not yet been tried.” On the contrary, I believe that this response was tried, perhaps not systematically. During the six weeks of the 2018 Gaza War, many Palestinians flew burning kites that landed on Israeli soil and damaged property.

During the six weeks of war, other Palestinians came close enough to the fence to throw stones and sometimes cut the fence. But the vast majority of Gazans who participated over the six weeks stayed largely under cover or behind rises in the land and were more than 300 metres from the fence. However, some young Gazans, overwhelmingly men, under cover of smoke from the burning tires, did approach the fence. Many tried to cut through the fence. Some threw Molotov cocktails and stones. However, unlike the fiery kite fliers, these had to enter the 300 metre no-go zone.

Though the clash was not primarily over the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully or even to use symbolic gestures to indicate their defiance, but over attempts to damage and possibly breach the fence, at one-point, airborne troops landed among demonstrators to attempt to disperse them with tear gas. This tactic appeared to be an aberration. At another point in the early evening of 30 March, tanks and jets bombed Hamas sites in response to live fire. Later, other aerial attacks targeted those who were sending flaming kites or kites with Molotov cocktails.

One figure became a symbol of the militants located across the red line but not among those who tried to breach the fence. Saber al-Ashkar was a disabled protester in a wheelchair in the buffer zone hurling stones with his slingshot while surrounded usually by black smoke from burning tires.

We do not know how the planned sea war will unfold. The organizers of the Great March of Return, hardly an appropriate title for a continuing naval war let alone the air war, announced that they plan to put together a flotilla of boats to break the Israeli blockade. At the same time, this year Israel is planning to build a seawall using fortified rock and barbed wire to strengthen its sea blockade. Though the Palestinians continually focus on Gaza itself as a prison under siege by Israel, except for lifting the closure of the Rafah crossing for Ramadan, the Egyptian entry and exit gate has also been closed off.

Though outright war may be over for the present, what seems evident is that battles will continue to take place from land, sea and air.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

With the help of A

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