The most effective method to date of countering helium balloons and kites fitted with flammable materials that are being sent over the border from Gaza to set fire to Israeli fields and nature reserves has proved to be — drones.
More than 350 of the airborne incendiary devices have been felled by drones during the last two weeks, Hadashot News reported Wednesday.
Based on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s assessment Monday that 600 such balloons and kites have been sent over the border, this represents a success rate of more than 50 percent.
The number of fires caused by the flying objects has gone down dramatically on the days the drones are in action.
The drone operators, civilians absorbed into the combat engineering unit of the army’s engineering corps as reservists, are reportedly able to down an incendiary device within 40 seconds of detecting it. They work in pairs — one is on the lookout; the other operates the drones.
As news of their paid work for the army spreads, professional drone operators from all over the country have asked to join them, Hadashot news said.
But the army will have to find a budget for additional reservist hours in order to bring them on board.
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 initial assessments.
The fires, specifically those in the nature reserves, have also wreaked havoc on local wildlife, according to ecologists.
According to the Nature and Parks Authority, approximately 10,000 dunams in parks and reserves in southern Israel were burned, although a spokesperson for the authority said investigations were still underway to determine exactly how much of that was caused by incendiary kites and balloons, and how much was from other sources.
Helium balloons were added recently to some kites to enable the burning fuel to fly further. In both cases, the flying object is fitted with a long string to which a Molotov cocktail or burning fuel is attached.
Incendiary kites have been flown over the Gaza border as part of the weekly Palestinian protests, dubbed the “March of Return,” beginning in March.
In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, some 110 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
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 2007.