August 28, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hamas Proxy Launches Incendiary Balloons at Israel, Again

August 28, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hamas Proxy Launches Incendiary Balloons at Israel, Again

The Hamas proxy Humat al-Aqsa (HAA) published a video this week claiming responsibility for sending incendiary balloons into Israel from Gaza. HAA openly acknowledges its arson attacks as part of a campaign to terrorize Israeli civilians and cause fires across the border.

The attacks marked a resumption of incendiary balloon attacks after a six-month hiatus. The renewed attacks caused 161 fires in Israel between August 22 and August 26. In response, Israel has deployed Lahav Or, a laser system designed to counter incendiary balloons, which reportedly has a 90 percent success rate in the limited areas it can cover.

With Hamas’ approval, HAA and other militant groups reportedly resumed the attacks to pressure Israel to improve conditions in the Gaza Strip. Hamas seeks to extend Gaza’s fishing zone from 15 to 20 nautical miles, relax the blockade on the Gaza Strip, and increase work permits for Gazans to enter Israel. Israel has maintained severe restrictions on the coastal enclave following Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Palestinians in Gaza first deployed explosive balloons in April 2018 under the cover of the “March of Return” protests. That year, the incendiary devices sparked approximately 2,000 fires and destroyed about 8,400 acres of land in southern Israel. Additionally, between January 2019 and shortly after the 2019 June ceasefire agreement, Israel reported an average of two arson attacks per day.

In January and February 2020, Hamas violated its ceasefire and ordered the renewal of incendiary and explosive-laden balloons by militant groups, including HAA. It is unlikely that HAA or others would carry out these operations without explicit approval from Hamas. In fact, HAA boasted of its role in the arson campaign, publishing a video in February featuring men holding a banner with the group’s logo and name, filling condoms with helium, and sending them into Israel.

According to Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, Fathi Hamad, a senior Hamas official subject to U.S. sanctions, established and funded HAA in 2006. As a Hamas proxy, HAA enables Gaza’s rulers to carry out terrorist attacks while maintaining plausible deniability.

Since its founding, HAA has carried out a range of attacks. HAA promotional videos show its fighters launching rockets and mortars against Israel. In one video, a fighter in a ghillie suit aims his .50 caliber sniper rifle at Israeli soldiers.

In May 2019, HAA fighter Imad Muhammad Nasir was killed by the Israel Defense Forces in the northern Gaza strip as he was firing mortars at Israel. In January 2020, HAA reported on social media that it had lost 13 “martyred” fighters.

In keeping with Washington’s commitment to designating violent groups that perpetrate terrorism against civilian populations, and in light of the overwhelming evidence of HAA’s terrorist activities, the U.S. government should sanction HAA.

Joe Truzman is an analyst and contributor at the Long War Journal (LWJ), a project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where David May is a research analyst and contributor to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Joe, David, LWJ, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Joe and David on Twitter @Jtruzmah and @DavidSamuelMay. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP and @LongWarJournal. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Israel Jihadism Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics