Rafah offensive will have ‘catastrophic’ results - GulfToday

Rafah offensive will have ‘catastrophic’ results

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A Palestinian child looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.   Reuters

A Palestinian child looks on at the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters

Rafah or no Rafah? That is the question. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remains committed to his offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city located on the border with Egypt. He has given priority to wiping out Hamas’ surviving brigades, and killing or capturing Gaza’s commander Yahya Sinwar, and establishing Israeli control along that border. Netanyahu claims the Israeli army will rescue Israelis held by Hamas during this operation. Therefore, he claims that achieving these objectives will give Israel “total victory.”

However, families of the Israeli captives insist on a ceasefire and demand that the lives of their relatives and the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel must be given absolute priority. According to recent opinion polls, many Israelis support their stance. A significant number of retired Israeli military and intelligence figures agree on “No Rafah.” Former general and army operations chief Israel Ziv told Israeli television Channel 12 that mounting an offensive in Rafah would be the worst decision taken by Netanyahu since the war began last October. He agrees with the families that a thrust into Gaza would threaten the lives of the captives and argues that Hamas’ fighters in Rafah do not pose an existential threat to Israel. He insists that there will be no “total victory.”

Ziv said an invasion would kill and wound many of the 1.4 million people sheltering in Rafah, increase Israel’s international isolation, and render Israel unable to find anyone to take control of Gaza once the war is over. Ziv made the point that to remain in office Netanyahu depends on extreme right-wing parties which threaten to exit the coalition if he fails to invade Gaza. Netanyahu is under pressure to call their bluff. If the coalition collapses, right-wing zealots will lose power. Israel will have to prepare for an early election at a time Netanyahu’s popularity is low and his Likud party might not secure more than 19 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu is motivated by self-interest. Once he is out of office, he fears imprisonment for breach of trust, fraud, and corruption for which he is currently being tried.

Instead of confining himself to Rafah, ex-head of Israeli internal intelligence Ami Ayalon focused on the dangerous situation Israel has created for itself by colonising Palestinian land, denying Palestinian rights, and refusing Palestinian statehood. Ayalon accused Netanyahu of leading “his people to a dead end.” Ayalon complained in interviews with foreign media that the Netanyahu government launched this war “without any political goal,” He said, “We tend to forget that, you know, war is only a means to achieve a better political reality. This is the definition of victory.” In his view, a Rafah invasion would mean planning for “the day after” the war. He called for negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state which Netanyahu rejects and does not want to discuss.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned once again that a military offensive in Rafah would be “an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.” The Palestinian death toll has reached nearly 35,000 with 77,000 wounded and 10,000 “disappeared” — either buried by rubble or detained by Israel. Forty-seven non-governmental and rights organisations have sent a letter to US President Joe Biden — who has protected and armed Israel during the war — warning that a ground offensive in Rafah would inflict “catastrophic loss of life” among Palestinians in the area. Israel has told relief agencies that they would have 48 hours to evacuate 1.4 million people from Rafah before a ground operation begins. This is impossible.

Vocal international and domestic opponents of Netanyahu’s promised the Rafah offensive seems to have compelled the Biden administration to make a shift from telling Israel not to invade Rafah until it can guarantee the safety of its residents. Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that the US cannot support a “military operation in Rafah because the damage it will cause will be beyond what is acceptable.”

While the Biden administration has resisted pressure for seven months to curb Israel’s war machine and end the conflict, student anti-war protests at dozens of universities and colleges might have given Biden pause as he will depend on votes from youths 18 and over for securing re-election in November’s presidential poll.

Israel Army Radio has revealed, “Security services are examining alternatives to a large-scale operation in Rafah if this operation does not take place.”

As the US, Egypt and Qatar engaged in intensive ceasefire negotiations and Hamas considers the latest truce plan, Netanyahu — who faces opposition to a ceasefire within his coalition — declared that the Israeli army would attack the city “with or without a deal.” He argued that the decision to mount a full-scale invasion of Rafah has been taken and stated, “We will do what is necessary to win and overcome our enemy, including in Rafah.”

Meanwhile, Israel has come under growing pressure to admit food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza where 2.3 million Palestinians are in acute distress.

Cindy McCain, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has declared that northern Gaza is in a “full-blown famine and it’s moving its way south.” She said a ceasefire and a massive flow of aid is essential to counter the catastrophe in Gaza. It is about time. Since mid-March, the UN has claimed that northern Gaza is ‘nearing’ a state of famine, but refused to officially announce that this is the case. It is significant that Biden’s appointee McCain was the first to announce this development as she would not have done so without Washington’s approval.

There are other existential reasons for saying “No Rafah.” Rafah is the last urban area in Gaza not largely levelled by Israeli and US bombs and shells and the border crossing for the delivery of most huge humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Adding Rafah to the devastation already inflicted on Gaza will raise the already exorbitant costs of reconstruction. UN Assistant Secretary General Abdullah Dardari told a news conference in Amman, “The scale of destruction is huge and unprecedented...This is a mission that the global community has not dealt with since the Second World War. The UN Development Programme estimated last week that rebuilding Gaza will cost $30-$40 billion and involve an effort equal to the US Marshall Plan which contributed to the post-war European revival of Europe.




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