Fire balloons in Jerusalem: Will arson terror spread to all of Israel?

Will the same kind of conflagration seen on the Gaza Border spread to Judea and Samaria? Israeli analysts believe that such an eventuality is not likely.

By Jack Gold, World Israel News

A fire balloon was found for the third time in a week in Jerusalem, this time in the southwest neighborhood of Ein Kerem, raising fears that Gaza’s arson terror will spread to the center of the country.

In addition to Jerusalem, balloons tied to flammable materials were recently found in Rishon Letzion, Bat Yam and Givat Brenner near the coast, and in the cities of Modi’in and Beit Shemesh in central Israel.

“The police department has advised that, due to changing weather conditions, Molotov balloons and explosive balloons sent from Gaza have been spotted in areas much farther than before,” a medical first-response group in Beit Shemesh said in an alert on Sunday.

“The police urge that all residents be aware of found balloons lying on the street, in yards, or in trees,” the alert warned. 

Gaza source doubtful

Security officials believe that the balloons originate from Judea and Samaria, and not from Gaza, which is situated tens of miles away from the targeted cities.

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A police source noted that a balloon was found earlier this month in the backyard of a house in Givat Ze’ev, a Jerusalem suburb. Givat Ze’ev is situated adjacent to several Arab neighborhoods.

The incident is in line ‎with several similar cases ‎in Judea and Samaria, he says, indicating Palestinians from the territories may be trying to mimic the Gaza attacks by launching incendiary ‎balloons into central Israeli cities.

All the balloons were found in open areas and none caused any damage. A source within the fire department told Ynet news that in 99 percent of the incidents, by the time the balloons reached their targets they were no longer burning. However, he said that every incident is taken seriously, and firefighters are always dispatched to the scene to ensure that there is no threat of a fire.

Copycat arson?

Arson balloons appearing outside of areas surrounding the Gaza Strip naturally raises concerns that Palestinians in Judea and Samaria may imitate not only large-scale arson attacks but also the mass violent riots carried out for months by Gazan Arabs.

However, a senior IDF intelligence officer told World Israel News that the chances of such a development are unlikely.

While Gaza is controlled by Hamas, the “level of the flames” in the Palestinian street in Judea and Samaria is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, he says.

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The two Palestinian factions have been at odds for years, and therefore a scenario in which the PA turns violent in solidarity with Gaza is not an option, he explains. Abbas would not allow a situation in which it appears that Hamas has any influence in the areas under his control.

The high-ranking officer noted that in an event of a full-fledged war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the possibility of Fatah-led marches in the PA becomes more viable. But in general, he does not expect the PA to erupt like Gaza.

He added that the Israeli army’s and Israel’s Security Agency’s (or Shin Bet’s) unhindered ability to operate within PA territory makes such a violent development slim.

Economic element

When considering such a threat emanating from Judea and Samaria, another factor should be taken into consideration, the IDF officer says. While the economic situation in Gaza is dire and the enclave is constantly teetering on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, the situation in the PA is significantly better.

The Palestinian population in the PA is far more linked to the Israeli economy than in Gaza, and  therefore much more vulnerable, he says. Many Palestinians are employed in Israeli businesses. They are susceptible to losing their livelihood in the event of violence, which would inevitably lead to an Israeli shutdown of PA-controlled areas.

Simply put, PA Arabs have a lot more to lose than the Arabs of Gaza, and are therefore less likely to resort to violence against Israel, he says.

Bar-Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar, a prominent scholar of Arabic, Islam and the Middle East, agrees that no comparison can be made between Gaza and the PA. He sees zero scenario in which PA Arabs mimic the “March of Return,” Hamas’ term for the violent riots on the Israel-Gaza border.

Kedar also listed Hamas’ lack of influence in the PA, the Shin Bet’s full operational ability within the PA areas, and economic factors as the reasons why the PA and Gaza are so dissimilar.

He underscored that “there is nothing in common” between the PA and Gaza Arabs, and that essentially they are two different societies.