Report: US could support limited Israeli military op in Rafah
Israeli forces during operational activities in the Gaza Strip on March 13, 2024. Photo: IDF.

The Biden administration is against a wide-scale invasion of Gaza’s southernmost city, which Jerusalem says is the key to victory over Hamas

By Joshua Marks
March 14, 2024

(JNS) — Washington has told Jerusalem that it could support a limited IDF military operation against “high value” Hamas targets in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, according to a report published Wednesday in Politico.

The American news outlet wrote that senior Biden administration officials conveyed to their Israeli counterparts that the United States could support targeted raids against the terrorist group’s top officials both above ground and in the vast tunnel system running underneath the city along the Egyptian border.

Concern has been mounting in Washington and European capitals about the safety of noncombatants during an Israeli offensive to defeat the final four Hamas battalions concentrated there, consisting of roughly 3,000 fighters, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the AIPAC conference via video link on Tuesday is essential to winning the war.

“To win this war, we must destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah. If not, Hamas will regroup, rearm and reconquer Gaza and then we’re back to square one. And that’s an intolerable threat that we cannot accept,” the premier stressed.

Rafah’s population swelled to around 1.4 million after Israeli forces set up a humanitarian corridor to evacuate hundreds of thousands of residents of northern Gaza south across Wadi Gaza to a safe zone there in the first weeks of the war.

Israel launched “Operation Swords of Iron” to eliminate Hamas in Gaza after the terrorist group led a bloody invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, wounding thousands more and kidnapping 253.

Many of the 134 hostages still being held in Gaza are believed to be in Rafah. Two captives were rescued from the city by Israeli special forces in a daring military operation last month.

In an interview with MSNBC this past weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden suggested that more civilian casualties would be a red line, citing the Hamas casualty figure of 30,000.

According to Israel, at least 13,000 terrorists have been killed by Israeli forces so far; the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry’s figures do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

“You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead,” said Biden, who is pushing for a six-week ceasefire as part of a hostages-for-terrorists exchange deal during Ramadan.

Two Israeli officials told Politico that military leadership is still developing ideas to relocate civilians out of harm’s way. IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari on Wednesday presented a plan to direct a significant number of civilians from Rafah to “humanitarian islands” in the center of the coastal enclave ahead of the expected offensive.

Additionally, Hagari emphasized that moving the civilians to designated areas would be done in coordination with international actors.

“We need to make sure that 1.4 million people or at least a significant amount of the 1.4 million will move. Where? To humanitarian islands that we will create with the international community,” Hagari told reporters at a press briefing, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Further to this initiative, the humanitarian islands would include temporary housing, food, water and other essential supplies for evacuees.

Hagari also said that the Rafah operation would be coordinated with neighboring Egypt to ensure there is no influx of Gazans to the Sinai Peninsula.

While Hagari did not hint at when the Rafah operation would launch, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, during a visit to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that it would happen “soon.”

“Even those who think that we are delaying will soon see that we will reach everyone,” he told IDF troops serving in the western part of Gaza City, according to a readout provided by the Defense Ministry.

‘It’s not imminent’

Some key officials in the Biden administration, however, don’t believe an operation is imminent, citing military intelligence.

“They’d have to do some repositioning of forces, and that has not happened,” a Defense Department official told Politico. “It’s not imminent.”

Four U.S. officials told Politico that senior Biden administration officials have privately told the Israelis that they could support a plan for counter-terror raids in Rafah, which some have compared to nightly operations IDF troops conduct across Judea and Samaria.

“That, the administration officials argue, would minimize civilian casualties, decimate Hamas’s ranks and avoid scenes that have led to souring public opinion on Israel’s campaign and Biden’s handling of the war,” according to the article.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan attempted to clarify Biden’s “red line” remarks at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, calling reports that Biden would consider conditioning military aid if the IDF enters Rafah “uninformed speculation.”

“The president didn’t make any declarations or pronouncements or announcements. Our position is that a military operation in Rafah that does not protect civilians, that cuts off the main arteries of humanitarian assistance and that places enormous pressure on the Israel-Egypt border is not something that he can support,” said Sullivan.

For his part, Netanyahu has remained steadfast that the road to victory runs through Rafah, a position supported by a majority of Israelis, according to recent polling.

“We will finish the job in Rafah while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm’s way. We’ve taken measures to minimize civilian casualties that no other army has taken in history. Just ask Col. John Spencer, a world expert on urban warfare, in charge of urban warfare at West Point. We have taken measures to minimize civilian casualties that no other army has taken in history,” said Netanyahu.

“So to our friends in the international community, I say this: You cannot say you support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself and then oppose Israel when it exercises that right. You cannot say you support Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas and then oppose Israel when it takes the actions necessary to achieve that goal. You cannot say that you oppose Hamas’s strategy of using civilians as human shields and then blame Israel for the civilian casualties that result from this cynical Hamas strategy.”

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