Israel shows off mini-drones used to tackle Gaza 'fire kites'
MOHAMMED ABED (AFP)
Israel's military has for the first time demonstrated how it aims to thwart an influx of "fire kites" from Gaza that have wrought widespread damage on farmland close to the Palestinian enclave.
Emerging during weeks of border protests and clashes in which some 125 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, the kites quickly became a popular way for Palestinians to inflict damage on Israel without putting themselves in danger.
Fires started when the kites hit the ground in Israeli border communities are estimated to have caused millions of shekels in damage. Israel, world-renowned for its high-tech know-how, has scrambled to deal with the new homemade threat.
Col. Nadav Livne, the commander of the Israeli army's Matmon unit -- dedicated to research and development of technology for operational purposes -- on Thursday briefed reporters on the Israel Defense Forces's (IDF) use of mini-drones to counter the wave of kites.
Col. Livne noted that some 500 kites and balloons had been intercepted by mini-drones operated by 10 to 20 soldiers, many of them civilian reservist experts called up specially for this purpose.
These mini-drones are used by Israeli soldiers to counter burning kites which have ravaged much of the #Israel-#Gaza border region recently, by tearing them apart, or pushing them to the ground. An #IDF Colonel says some 500 kites have been interecepted @i24NEWS_EN pic.twitter.com/m8WESYBe0c— Shai Ben-ari (@ShaiBenari) June 7, 2018
The officer said he assumed an interception success rate of "over 90 percent".
"There are a couple of technologies that we have adapted," Livne said.
"The first is a 'hard kill': very small drones that intercept the kite or the balloon and [cause it] to crash to the ground. The second is a drone that actually catches the drone in the air and takes it down until landing," he said, adding there were further methods he could not discuss.
When asked if the drones could survive the impact Livne answered: "The drones are multi-use. They crash on the ground but they are very robust, and we use them again and again and again."
The technology was developed at lightning speed, as the spikes threatened to spark massive blazes in southern Israel, panicking residents.
Livne said the technology was developed and operated by soldiers from the IDF's technology division, and that it a "very quick" development.
"It's a couple of weeks from the moment that we got the challenge to the moment that we gave back good solutions to the tactical forces," he said.
"I can't tell you the budget that was invested but in (terms) of defense budgets this was a very low investment. It's a civilian technology that we adapted."
Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli Defense Minister, said earlier this week that some 200 fires had been started by burning kites in Israeli territory, a figure supported by the IDF.
Local residents and park rangers from the Israel National Fund who spoke to i24NEWS have cast doubt on those figures however, and have estimated that the true number of fires is much higher.
'In this way we hurt them'
"Five shekels [just under two dollars] for the material, five minutes to make and look at the result," says Israeli farmer Avner Yona, brandishing a wooden-framed sheet of plastic almost as large as he is, fitted with a now blackened tail ribbon that shows the kite-maker's malicious intent.
Pointing to a still green field in the distance, he told AFP he remains hopeful of saving the chickpea harvest due in mid-July and the sunflowers that should ripen by late August.
The damage to the kibbutz's crops amounts to around two million shekels, he estimates.
The kite found by Yona may have been launched from outside the nearby Al-Bureij refugee camp.
There, a dozen young men sit on a large sandbank facing Israel fitting kites and balloons with makeshift incendiary devices.
"If you give kites enough rope, they can go for 20 or 30 kilometers (12 to 20 miles)," says Abu Moussa, 25.
"As soon as it arrives over the forest we cut it."
"We aim to set fire to their farms," adds Abu Majd, 28. "In this way we hurt them."
AFP contributed to this report.
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Have the drones intercept the flaming kites and fly them back into gaza