Israel’s political leadership has reportedly instructed the army to prepare for a military offensive in the Gaza Strip, to be initiated if the launching of incendiary devices from the Hamas-run coastal enclave into Israeli territory continues.
According to a Channel 10 news report Tuesday, Israel has set Friday as a deadline for the flaming kite and balloon launches to cease. If this does not happen, Israel may decide it has no choice but to embark on a military campaign in the Strip, the report said.
Israel sent a similar message to Hamas through Egyptian intelligence, Channel 10 reported, with the Palestinian terror group in turn indicating its forces will work to stop the launching of burning materials by Friday.
On Sunday, the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division launched an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, including the capture of Gaza City. While the military said it was planned in advance and was not related to the weekend’s exchange of fire, the manner in which the exercise was publicized by the military led many to see it as a tacit threat to Hamas.
Hamas is manning some 60 percent of its positions along the border fence in order to stop the launches, according to the TV report, and is expected to dispatch its forces to all of its posts by Friday.
Citing Palestinian sources, the report said Hamas would only put a complete stop to the flaming kite launches if it can achieve some sort of accomplishment, such as the reopening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s ambassador to Egypt said earlier Tuesday the crossing would reopen on Wednesday after being shuttered for more than 24 hours over technical issues.
The report came as Israeli leaders touted the IDF’s readiness for a military conflict with Hamas amid ongoing violence along the Gaza border.
During a tour on Tuesday of the army’s Gaza Division, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was already in a “military campaign.”
“We are in a military campaign in which there have been exchanges of blows. I am prepared to say that the Israel Defense Forces is prepared for any scenario,” Netanyahu said.
Over the weekend, Hamas fired some 200 rockets and mortar shells at Israel and the IDF carried out multiple strikes inside the Palestinian enclave. That escalation began after an IDF officer was moderately injured by a hand-grenade thrown by a Gaza assailant at the border on Friday.
On Saturday night, a ceasefire of sorts was brokered by Egypt and other international bodies, though Israel was not directly involved in the talks. The violence has abated, but tensions endured and cross-border attacks continued.
Asked if Israel was working to prevent a military conflict with Hamas, Netanyahu defended the government’s actions.
“I believe that we are doing the right things. It would be worthwhile to pay attention not only to what we are saying, but to what we are doing,” he said.
Netanyahu was joined on the visit by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and the head of the Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman.
While the senior officials were meeting in the Gaza Division on Tuesday, a number of incendiary and apparently booby-trapped balloons were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. A total of 17 fires started by airborne devices from Gaza were reported on Tuesday, including one that landed in the yard of a preschool where children were playing.
In response to the arson attacks, an Israeli drone conducted an airstrike near a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons from the northern Gaza Strip, injuring two of them, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet.
The Israeli military confirmed that one of its aircraft carried out the strike.
In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces has stepped up this practice, after the security cabinet called on it to take a more forceful stance against the airborne arson attacks on Sunday.
Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land; regular riots and clashes along the border, which have resulted in over 130 Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire; and occasional outbursts of mortar and rocket fire by Gaza terrorist groups, which have prompted dozens of Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas positions. Dozens of the dead were members of Hamas and other terror groups, they have acknowledged.
This violence has raised tensions between Israel and Hamas to the highest they have been since the 2014 Gaza war.
In recent days, many officials and commentators in Israel, Gaza, and the international community have warned that another war in the Palestinian enclave was imminent in light of increased violence along the border, unless actions were taken to calm the situation.