Officials said at least 20 fires were started by the balloons on Tuesday. Palestinian media reported that the Israeli retaliatory strikes caused property damage, with no casualties being reported.
More balloons were launched on Wednesday, triggering at least four more fires, Israeli fire and rescue authorities said.
While activists have been sending balloons to Israel for years, the IDF’s response to airstrikes in Gaza is escalating further. Israeli officials said this was part of a message to Hamas that any provocation will be fought with force.
Former Finance Minister Israel Katz, who was in the cabinet during the latest conflict with Gaza last month, said that after this operation “we decided to change the rules.”
Here’s what we know about balloons and how they play out in today’s tensions.
What are incendiary balloons?
These are relatively simple devices – helium balloons that often look like children’s birthday party decorations, attached to explosives or devices that are preemptively ignited.
Activists launch the balloons from Gaza and the winds from the Mediterranean Sea help propel them into Israeli territory.
What are they designed for?
According to the Israel Parks and Nature Reserve Authority, such fires burned more than 3,657 acres of the area surrounding Gaza from 2018 to May 25, 2021. Israeli authorities say the fires have destroyed thousands of acres of crops. .
Since 2018, more than 10,400 acres have been burned in Israel from flying incendiary devices, not counting the fires on Tuesday, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said.
So far, the authorities have not reported any victims of these incendiary devices.
Why balloons instead of rockets this time?
Balloons are a cheap way for militant groups in Gaza to send a message to Israel, without provoking the full Israeli military retaliation that often occurs when rockets are fired from the coastal enclave.
Balloons are easy to build and require little installation to launch, compared to rockets which are expensive and time consuming to produce. So far, balloons rarely, if ever, cause injury.
Tuesday’s balloons were likely floated in response to the Israeli government’s decision to allow a provocative right-wing flag march in Jerusalem.
The Flag March is an annual parade in which predominantly nationalist Jewish groups pass through the Old City of Jerusalem with Israeli flags to celebrate Israel’s takeover of the Western Wall during the Six Day War of 1967. The The march often stirs up tensions with Palestinian residents of the Old City.
On Tuesday, 33 Palestinian protesters were injured, including stun grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunition – six of which were evacuated to hospital – following clashes with Israeli security forces around the area. East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Where does Israel’s new leader stand on the balloons?
After the 11 days of conflict last month, Israeli officials indicated that such acts like incendiary balloons would be met with greater force, which appears to be happening.