The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, headed by MK Avi Dichter (Likud), and the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, headed by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), on Thursday held meetings at Kibbutz Be’eri near the Gaza border to discuss the damage caused by the incendiary kites and drones launched from the Strip.
The Internal Affairs Committee held a meeting on the area’s readiness to deal with the threat, with the participation of Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Brig. Gen. Dedi Simchi. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a closed-door meeting in which it was briefed by security officials on technological and operational solutions to the fire kite threat.
Later, the committees held a joint meeting in which Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni said, “Our daily routine is always unique, with the rocket and tunnel threat, and over the past few months the kites and incidents along the border have been added to it… I’m certain that [we will be compensated for the damage from the fires ignited by the incendiary kites], but we must think long term, and if the state will reach the conclusion that we should change the crops that we grow here (due to the fires), then the farmers must be notified now, and this too will have consequences.”
“We are preparing a new plan to support Gaza-vicinity communities, similar to that which was implemented after operation Protective Edge, and I ask that you help us advance it,” he added.
Yair Farjun, head of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, praised the IDF for preventing the kites from reaching local communities, while Rafi Babiyan, security officer for the Sdot Negev Regional Council, said “A new community in the Gaza vicinity will be a great victory and will send a clear message.”
Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Simchi said, “We invested many resources, at a cost of 1.7 million to 2 million shekels beyond the regular budget. Thousands of work hours of firefighters from all the districts who came here as reinforcements. According to our estimates, about 6,200 acres were burned down.” Simchi warned of the possibility of a renewed use of kites in the future, and said: “It’s also important for all the communities to learn about fire preparedness, because just as we thought at first that the Qassam rockets would end within a few days, we have to be prepared for the possibility that there will be kites next summer too.”
Amir Dahan, who heads the Tax Authority compensation department, said that 65 claims related to the damage caused by the kites have been submitted to the authority. “We estimate the damage at 125 acres of wheat, avocado orchards, jojoba and agricultural equipment, although the Jewish National Fund and the Nature and Parks Authority have yet to submit claims, so we can’t estimate the total extent of the damage. Our estimate of all the damage is about 7 million shekels so far.”
MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union) said the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry must find a way to reimburse Sapir College for the additional NIS 2 million it spent on security.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), a resident of south Israel, thanked those who took part in the meetings. “You being here with us sends a message, and knowing we are not alone is the best feeling in the world. This is our home, and we want to be here. The Gaza vicinity will continue to exist, grow and deal with whatever comes, at least until the point where there will be accurate weapons in Gaza; then we will be in a completely different situation.”
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said, “The people sitting here are very strong, but this area is, to a large extent, disaster ridden, and we should not be afraid to recognize it as such, economically.”
MK Amir Ohana (Likud) praised the Fire and Rescue Services for a “great job” and “great response time,” and the heads of the local authorities for their “level-headedness.” MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) also lauded the heads of local authorities and the area’s residents for their resilience, and said “Terror constantly changes, like a mutation, but we are dealing with the gap and coming up with solutions for everything. We are here with you and at your service.”
MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) said it was also important to invest in the “personal sense of security” of the residents, while MK Anat Berko (Likud) said, “The sense among the public is that our country is being burned down, and this means that they have won the battle over the consciousness. Our national resilience derives from deterrence, and our enemies view the kites as a test case, which we may meet on a number of fronts, so they must be put on the defensive.”
MK Kisch argued that “Maybe we could have reached a better outcome than the 6,200 acres that were burned, but it’s also important to remember first of all, with all the pain over the fields, that we ended with zero casualties and the Israel Defense Forces managed to prevent the infiltrations at the fence, so that maybe we only lost in hasbara [public relations].”