Army head said to rebuff minister demanding lethal force against kite launchers

Gadi Eisenkot tells Naftali Bennett dropping bombs on Gazans preparing to send incendiary kites and balloons over border is against his moral position, according to Hadashot report

A Palestinian man prepares to attach an incendiary to a kite before flying it towards Israel on July 13, 2018 during a violent protest along the Israel-Gaza border fence east of Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A Palestinian man prepares to attach an incendiary to a kite before flying it towards Israel on July 13, 2018 during a violent protest along the Israel-Gaza border fence east of Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot reportedly clashed Sunday over targeting Gaza Strip Palestinians who launch incendiary balloons and kites towards Israel, with the army commander saying it would be immoral to use lethal fire against them.

The exchange came during a security cabinet meeting discussion on how to tackle the problem of the fire balloons and kites, which Gazans have been sending across the border daily, sparking large fires in Israeli fields and forests.

The government and military have come under intense domestic pressure to step up its response to stymie the balloons and kites, which has mostly consisted of firing warning shots at cells launching the devices. Some southern residents have adopted the slogan “treat kites as you would rockets.”

Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, has joined those pushing for a stronger military response, urging the Israel Defense Forces to strike Palestinians it identifies preparing to launch the airborne incendiaries.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2018. (Flash90)

“Why not shoot at anyone who fires aerial weapons at our communities and also at the cells [preparing the incendiaries for launch]?” Bennett asked Eisenkot, according to a report carried by Hadashot television news Sunday. “There is no legal impediment. Why shoot next to them and not at them? We are talking about terrorists in every respect.”

Eisenkot replied that he didn’t think “shooting at young people and children, who are sometimes those who are launching the balloons, is right,”

“And if it is an adult, identified as an adult?” probed Bennett.

“Are you suggesting dropping bombs from a plane on cells launching kites and balloons?” asked Eisenkot.

“Yes,” said Bennett.

“That is against my operational and moral position,” Eisenkot replied.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center-right, meets with senior officers in the IDF Southern Command, including IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, center, and Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, right, on June 12, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The exchange, which took place behind closed doors, could not be confirmed.

The meeting had been called after Saturday saw a sharp uptick in cross border fighting, with Israel launching massive air raids across Gaza and nearly 200 projectiles fired at communities in Israel.

Sunday saw renewed incidents of balloons and kites being launched into Israel, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed they would be seen as a breach of the delicate ceasefire reached after Saturday’s fighting.

The IDF said Sunday it fired  near three groups of Palestinians preparing incendiary balloons or kites.

Firefighters extinguish a fire in a field caused by incendiaries attached to kites flown by Palestinians, from the Gaza Strip, June 27, 2018. (Flash90)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that at least two of the attacks caused injuries.

According to the Hadashot news report, ministers also complained that the media was driving the pressure for them to step up their response to the balloons and kites, which have burned hundreds of acres but caused no injuries.

“They keep saying ‘Israel is on fire,’ ‘Israel is burning.’ Israel is not burning,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz reportedly said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then reportedly replied: “The media reports are overblown. The media is feeding this [perception] and presenting things in a warped way.”

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