Defense contractor Rafael ‘working on solution’ to Gaza’s incendiary kites

Official at company that made Iron Dome says it is developing solutions to wave of arson attacks that have burned thousands of dunams of Israeli land

Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail to during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail to during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Top Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is working on a solution to combat the problem of incendiary kites launched from the Gaza Strip, a top official from the military contractor said Friday.

“We are working on a solution to the kites, we do have some solutions and we are in continuous contact with the IDF so that we will be able to deliver those solutions,” Dr. Ran Gozli, head of Rafael R&D, told Army Radio.

“It’s an ongoing process, and we prefer to show you [its results], so for now I’ll just say that we are working on it,” he said.

Rafael is one of the largest defense contractors in Israel, responsible for the Iron Dome missile defense system, its seaborne equivalent C-Dome, the Spike surface-to-surface missile and other arms. The Iron Dome system was developed to shoot down incoming rockets and missiles from Gaza, which it did effectively during the 2014 conflict with Hamas. Last week, facing barrages from Gaza, it proved relatively effective in intercepting short-range mortar shells as well.

Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire in a wheat field caused from kites flown by Palestinian protesters, near the border with the Gaza Strip, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The most recent flareup in tensions with Gaza has seen sporadic rocket and missile fire at southern Israel, but fires caused by the incendiary kites launched over the border on a near daily basis have burned thousands of acres of agricultural fields, forests, and grasslands adjacent to the Palestinian territory.

According to the IDF, joint teams of soldiers, firefighters, and civilians have managed to bring down over 500 fire kites and balloons launched toward Israel in the past 10 weeks.

Col. Nadav Livne, head of the IDF Ground Forces’ research and development branch, told reporters on Thursday the teams were utilizing drones to intercept the flying incendiary devices before they land in Israeli territory in under a minute of spotting them.

Some 17,500 dunams (4,300 acres, or nearly seven square miles) of land on the Israeli side of the Gaza border have been burned in more than 250 fires over the past two months, more than half of them in nature reserves, according to Israeli assessments.

The fires, specifically those in the nature reserves, have also wreaked havoc on local wildlife, according to ecologists.

In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, over 120 Palestinians were believed killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. The majority of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in order to cover the cost of damage to affected fields, the government would consider withholding tax revenue funds from the Palestinian Authority.

The decision raised eyebrows among Israeli analysts, who pointed out that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the Authority’s primary rival, the Hamas terror group, has ruled the enclave since ousting the PA in a violent coup in 2007. Making the PA financially responsible for the kites could incentivize Hamas to continue encouraging the tactic, analysts have warned.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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