Israel is ready to launch operation in Rafah
    Make or break?

    ANALYTICS  01 May 2024 - 16:15

    Fuad Shahbazov

     In light of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, official Tel Aviv reiterated the idea to conduct a counter-terrorist operation in Rafah while international pressure mounts on Israel to halt the upcoming operation. As such, face-to-face discussions were held in Egypt on April 24 between Israeli and Egyptian security services to prevent Israel's intervention in Rafah in exchange for moving forward with a deal that would release Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. However, Israel is determined to launch a ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town, despite harsh criticism.

    Even as the US, Egypt, and Qatar pushed for a cease-fire deal they hoped would avert an assault on Rafah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated on April 29 that the military would move on the town with or without a deal to achieve its goal of destroying the Hamas militant group. In line with Netanyahu’s remarks, Israeli media reported that the armed forces had already approved military plans for its offensive and had moved troops and tanks to southern Israel in apparent preparation. However, due to the Biden administration’s pressure and urges, official Tel Aviv hesitates to announce the dates of the operation. Earlier, the Biden administration has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to evacuate civilians.

    Like many regional states, Egypt is concerned that an Israeli operation in the southern Gaza city would lead to tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians entering their territory, potentially involving a breach of the border that would endanger Egypt's security. Moreover, Qatar, the leading mediator between Israel and Hamas over a hostage deal, recently criticized Israel for its plans to intervene in Rafah, which would eventually undermine the talks with Hamas.

    In addition, the Qatari government stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in a hostage deal right now. Therefore, pro-Israeli US Congressmen urged President Joe Biden to reexamine the partnership with Qatar.

    Israel maintains a firm stance toward the Hamas problem, referring to the urgency of the release of civilian hostages abducted during the October 7 attack. Moreover, Israel suspects that Hamas’ top Gaza-based leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, Israel’s most wanted man, are hiding in tunnels under Gaza, shielded by the surviving Hamas-held Israeli and foreign national hostages.

    From the Israeli point of view, Rafah is the last destination of the Israeli Army in the Gaza Strip as it is the last stronghold of Hamas after operations elsewhere dismantled 18 out of the militant group’s 24 battalions. According to the Israeli military, Hamas maintains four battalions in Rafah, and therefore, the operation in this area is inevitable. Despite real threats of conflict spillover, Israel seems confident regarding the possible outcomes of the Rafah operation. After the October 7 attack, Israel named Hamas as threat number one to be eliminated from the Gaza Strip in an effort to prevent future escalation.

    Despite its devastating human and physical cost, Israel’s effort to destroy Hamas has a whack-a-mole aspect. Even though Israel asserts it has killed 13,000 of Hamas’s estimated 40,000 fighters and wounded or captured thousands more, Hamas retains a presence in swaths of Gaza. However, Israel’s justified concerns may be hampered by the mounting death of civilian Palestinians during the upcoming event.

    Netanyahu's threats of an impending ground operation are, thus, a threat—though one that could serve several purposes. For example, pressuring Hamas increases Israel’s leverage in negotiations toward a hostage deal. Aside, the threat is also a way for Netanyahu to pander to his base, asserting that Israel will operate in Gaza however it wishes, even in the face of admonitions from Washington. It could also be a ploy by Netanyahu to argue, further down the road, that the reason Israel wasn’t able to defeat Hamas entirely was US opposition to a major ground invasion in Rafah.

    The US is also concerned that the Rafah operation may trigger a renewed missile exchange between Iran and Israel that would eventually destabilize the fragile region. However, despite the opposition from the Western partners, Israel will likely conduct a military operation in Rafah to beat Hamas and ensure control over the Gaza Strip.

    Caliber.Az

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