As the clash between Palestinians and the IDF continued at the Gaza border last weekend with the accompanied casualties, protesters relied heavily on fire kites to scorch Israeli fields.
Fire Kites Blaze Israeli Fields, Gaza Protest Continues
The humanitarian plight and dismal conditions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade has sent thousands of Palestinians with seemingly nothing to lose and directed by Hamas to protest and riot at the Gaza border to either breach the fence or die trying. Over the course of the protests, which began in March, both the Israelis and Palestinians have shifted tactics several times in efforts to stay one step ahead of each other.
The casualty toll, many from IDF bullets—4 killed and 618 wounded this week—has become routine, but the protest strategies shift weekly as the IDF adapts to them. This week rioters took advantage of the use of firekites more than in weeks past, a unique attack that is simple yet difficult to counter.
The crafts are not complicated and are easily fashioned out of any light material from paper, fabric, or cardboard. What makes them dangerous is the addition of a flaming tail that lifts with the kite and likely ignites the target—in this case, Israeli fields.
Since the beginning of the protest, the Gaza border area has seen nearly three hundred fires and around 1,235 acres of crops, mostly wheat, burned, according to Ha’aretz. That’s worth around 5 million shekels, or $1.4 million USD. Hundreds of acres of woodland and protected forest have burned as well.
Despite the use of planes, bulldozers, and other modern equipment, firefighters have struggled to contain the fires as they are ignited almost randomly. The firefighters are not the only ones struggling against this new kind of attack. The IDF has been slow in finding a way to prevent the kites from launching or disabling them once they are in the air. The Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times recently visited the Israeli side of the fence and witnessed attempts by the IDF to stop the kites by using drones to tangle the lines and drag them down. He said the IDF has downed about five hundred so far.
The Israeli Minister of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to harvest early to save their crops, but for those who have only scorched fields there is another solution. Ha’aretz reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the use of Palestinian Authority funds delegated by Israel to offset the cost of compensating the farmers and others for damage done by the fires.
Iranians Stage Withdrawal, Dress as Syrians
Iranian soldiers who were supposed to be retreating from the Israeli border at Russia’s behest simply turned around on their way back and swapped their uniforms for Syrian military garb in an attempt to dupe the Israeli Air Force.
The report coming from the Wall Street Journal comes a week after Russia strong-armed its close ally Iran into pulling troops back from the Israeli border, presumably to avoid a war that nobody wants right now.
But according to Syrian rebel commanders cited by the Wall Street Journal, those troops are being disguised by the Syrian regime as their own. What’s going on here? Here is a little who-is-who background.
- Iran, Syria, and Russia are allies. Russia supplies economic, energy, and military support to Syria and Iran.
- Syria welcomed Iranian-proxy Hezbollah forces in the fights against rebels and the Islamic State, but the Iranians are also using it to dig in near Israel.
- Israel is keeping Iranian troops away from the border with airstrikes and threatens to do more.
- The rebels do not like Israel, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so they are calling out Iran and Syria’s disguise trickery.
Specifically, the Wall Street Journal reported that “after initially appearing to withdraw, military convoys of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and other Iran-backed militias have returned to both Daraa and Quneitra provinces in Syria’s southwest near Israel, dressed in Syrian military uniforms and under Syrian flags, according to multiple rebel commanders.”
Israel doesn’t seem surprised based on a statement from an official: “You can be sure that Israel is very much aware of basically everything happening in our backyard.”
This article is worth a full read and provides insight into the military and political layers in this situation.
Replenishing the Sea of Galilee with Desalination
Israel is in the fifth year of a parching drought, but a new plan to feed desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee could help mitigate the damage.
It will be the first time desalinated water, an Israel-unique innovation, will be used to replenish the Galilee, which has been facing dropping water levels for years. The Israeli government is considering it an “emergency plan” to preserve the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Kinneret.
The Jerusalem Post reports that starting in 2019, small quantities of desalinated water will be pumped into the Sea of Galilee eventually reaching an annual volume of 100 million cubic meters of water by 2023.
Israel is the global leader in desalination technology and uses it to supply about 70 percent of the country’s drinking water. In this case, the goal is bigger than quenching thirst. If the water level of the Sea of Galilee drops too low it could spell disaster for both the ecology of the region and tourism destinations.
A statement from the Energy Ministry announced plans to double the amount of desalinated water by 2030 by constructing new processing plants, but without normal rainfall, even that increase won’t close the gap.
Thousands Protest Abbas in West Bank over Gaza
More than 1,500 people protested in the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank on Sunday night calling for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to lift sanctions on Gaza that target Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are rival Palestinian factions, and up until Hamas swept the elections and took military control in 2006 and 2007, the Palestinian Authority was in charge of Gaza. Since then, the Palestinian Authority has had uncontested control only over the West Bank, while infighting over resources and representation has seriously degraded management of infrastructure in Gaza.
Recently, reports have indicated that the PA and Abbas may be losing their influence with Palestinians after not taking much action in response to the U.S. embassy moving to Jerusalem or the violent Gaza border protests. Additionally, there has been speculation about Abbas’ health and who may take the reins after Abbas is out.
Sunday’s protest was the largest solidarity demonstration with Gaza since the day of the “Great March of Return.”
Ha’aretz reports that slogans accused the PA of being a "contractor of the occupation" and demanded the end of security collaboration with Israel. Additionally, when protesters returned to a main square after a march, they were greeted by large banners on buildings that claimed Hamas was responsible for the situation in Gaza