On Old/New Methods of Warfare
Updated: Sep 6, 2018
Over the past few months Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have introduced a highly effective means of frustrating the Israelis, and causing considerable damage to fields and plantations near the border. They have been sending up incendiary material on kites, and more recently on inflated balloons; an idea that is both simple, and effective, and one that shows a remarkable degree of ingenuity on the part of the Palestinians - but not necessarily, originality.
A twelfth century treatise called Liber Ignium (The Book of Fire), written perhaps by a certain Marcus Graecus, describes a method for destroying an enemy’s camp. What was proposed was that one would take some crows, and before dawn smear incendiary material on them. They would then be released to fly off and land on the enemy’s tents. The idea behind this was that at dawn the sun's rays would ignite the mixture and thereby set the enemy's tents aflame.
There were a few flaws in this scheme. One, of course, was that it would have been none too pleasant for the crows. Another was the question of whether the sun's rays would be enough to actually ignite them. But perhaps the main weakness in this proposal was that, whereas the Palestinians very sensibly rely on the wind direction, which at a certain time is quite dependably westerly (i.e. moving east across the border), with the crows it was necessary to hope that they would have the good sense to indeed land on the enemy's tents and not take it into their heads to return to their masters.