Kite terrorism and incendiary balloons are an issue that has preoccupied Israeli citizens and decision-makers…
Kite terrorism and incendiary balloons are an issue that has preoccupied Israeli citizens and decision-makers for several months now.
The goal of this type of terrorism, referred to by the Hamas leadership as a “popular protest”, is to harass and exhaust the civilian population in Israel, cause damage to property, and place the Palestinian issue on the media’s agenda. The problem for Israel is that this tactic is succeeding. Those same devices, namely kites and balloons, which are ostensibly innocent objects used by children on a daily basis, have become tools in the hands of Hamas operatives and rioters capable of sowing terror and fear. These tools, whose purpose is ostensibly not to kill, have become tiebreaker devices.
The question that concerns the political and security echelons is how to stop this type of terrorism. The decision must include operational as well as ethical considerations. This article deals with ethical considerations.
Israel makes use of technological aids, such as skimmers and model airplanes, to help intercept the kites but this solution only partially addresses the problem. Another controversial solution that has been widely discussed is to bomb the kite launcher cells. In a Cabinet meeting held in July, when it seemed that kite terrorism was not going to end, the IDF was instructed to intensify retaliatory measures. However, when it comes to the question of whether it is possible to directly intercept kite-launching cells, opinions are divisive. For instance, an argument took place during the Cabinet meeting between Minister Naftali Bennett and Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot. Bennett demanded that the kite-launching cells be attacked, while Eizenkot claimed that bombarding the cells with bombs launched from an aircraft contradicts the IDF’s operational and ethical position.
Indeed, there is an ethical problem with this type of solution for several reasons: First, according to international law, but also according to the moral doctrine that examines ethically appropriate means and methods of warfare, the principle of proportionality must be observed, meaning the expected military benefit resulting from the action must be weighed against the harm caused to innocent civilians on the other side. In the case at hand, there will almost certainly be a violation of this principle. The kite, even when a combustible material is attached to it, is a tool that appears innocent to the eye and is intended to cause damage to property rather than to kill, while the bombs dropped directly on the launchers, rather than close to them as a warning, are intended to kill or to cause physical harm. In addition, innocent people standing nearby may be harmed. In contrast, there is apparently no real military benefit to assassinating the kite flyers since Hamas, as a terrorist organization, does not take into consideration the lives of its operatives or the lives of the civilian population it claims to serve. Every casualty will only help achieve the goal of putting the Palestinian issue on the international agenda.
Second, the question arises, who are the kite flyers? Are they terrorist operatives or civilians? Often, they are young boys. Is Hamas sending them with false promises or threats, or do they do so of their own free will? Bennett, for example, claimed that it would only be possible to attack a cell composed of adults. However, a decision to attack made in a split second cannot always be accurate. Either way, the equation that Israel would set of a missile versus a kite would not look good ethically in the eyes of the international community, which would put Israel in a bad light and severely damage its image.
So far, it can be assumed that the political echelon’s attempt to reach a long-term arrangement with Hamas was probably one of the reasons why the military echelon acted with relative moderation vis-à-vis the terrorist organization. However, the Cabinet meeting held on August 6, 2018, regarding the plan for an arrangement in the Gaza Strip, ended pessimistically on the Israeli side and the Cabinet announced that “the IDF is ready for any scenario”.
Therefore, due the situation, it is imperative to discuss another solution that is raised from time to time; a solution that must be seriously considered – a return to the policy of targeted killings as a tool of self-defense. This tool was an integral part of the declared security policy of the State of Israel during the second Intifada and proved to be effective. In the case at hand, it is possible to carry out targeted killings against elements in the military wing that guide and direct the kite terrorism, such as: the heads of the terrorist cells responsible for the kite launches or even senior officials who give the order. In this way, we neutralize the question of who is actually engaged in launching the kites and incendiary balloons, if they are young or old, civilians or terrorist operatives, since the attack is not against them. Pre-emptive targeted killings constitute a form of individual punishment that also leads to deterrence: the same person who gives the order, or who plays an important role in “assembly line of terrorism”, is the one to get hit. This is in addition to trying to minimize as much as possible the damage caused to the environment. Although there are also many discussions surrounding this tool of targeted killings that involve ethical considerations that cannot be ignored, the military benefit from it is apparently significant.
This tool of targeted killings can be used in conjunction with a battle over consciousness, which will help justify its use in the eyes of the community and international institutions. In the framework of this battle, Israel must implement a system of public diplomacy that will make use of all possible media to enable the international community to understand, at least in part, the cumulative damage caused to Israeli citizens as a result of this type of terrorism. It should also be emphasized that various diplomatic and military means have been used to help put a complete stop to the launch of incendiary kites and balloons before it is decided to resort to targeted killings. This combined approach could lead to military effectiveness vis-à-vis Hamas, as well as relative legitimacy that can be given to targeted killing operations in the international arena.
 Avraham, Yaron, “Tensions in the South: Clashes in the Cabinet”, mako, July 15, 2018, https://www.mako.co.il/news-military/politics-q3_2018/Article-b0e2d18790f9461004.htm
 Eichner, Itamar, “The Cabinet Discusses the Situation in Gaza – Chances for an Arrangement with Hamas – Low”, ynet, August 6, 2018, https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5323150,00.html
 According to Mordechai Kremnitzer, a targeted killing is defined as a “tool used to assassinate a specific individual: a political or military leader, commander or activist in a terrorist organization, or an individual responsible (according to intelligence information) for terrorist activity”. In: Kremnitzer, Mordechai, Is Everything Kosher in Counter-Terrorism? Published by the Israel Democracy Institute, 2005, pp. 5.