Israel’s planned Rafah offensive

Harsha Kakar
Differences between Israel and its allies are increasing over their plans to invade Rafah, a Palestinian city in the South Gaza strip, which also has a border crossing with Egypt. The Israeli invasion of Gaza resulted in displaced Palestinians seeking shelter in Rafah, increasing its population to over 1.5 million from its earlier 280,000, all residing within 23 square miles. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s PM, has been insisting that four Hamas battalions are operating in Rafah and would need to be annihilated, in case Israel is to achieve its war aims. Peace negotiations between Israel and Hamas have collapsed.
There are claims by Gazan medical authorities that over 31,000 have been killed as a result of Israel’s military offensive post the 07 Oct attacks. Netanyahu mentions that 13,000 Hamas soldiers are part of those eliminated. Neither claim can be verified, however the attacks have severely impacted provision of aid to the region.Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet approved a new budget with increased defence spending and compensation for those affected by the war, including businesses and families displaced.
The Israeli war plan for the invasion of Rafah envisages moving those who relocated in the city into ‘humanitarian islands’ in the centre of Gaza, prior to its offensive. How will this materialize, time involved and arrangements for the population have not been spelled out. However, Israel’s intention to go ahead with the offensive has been questioned globally.
In an interview to MSNBC, President Biden displayed his frustration when he stated, ‘He (Netanyahu) has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas. But he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. He’s hurting…in my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping it.’ What’s impacting the US is that an attack on Rafah would add immensely to the already high casualty figures and the US accused of backing it.
In desperation the US began air drops of aid as also announced its intent to establish a temporary pier enabling ships with humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza. While the US has continued to back Israel, additional casualties would impact its Middle East ties. Netanyahu has faced revolt from within, with his defence minister, Benny Gantz, making a visit to the US and meeting the Vice President, Kamala Harris. Unless Netanyahu delivers results, including release of balance hostages, his political career is in jeopardy.
The world is also against Israel’sintent to invade Rafah. Australia, Canada and New Zealand issued a joint statement condemning the proposed offensive. European nations have approached their Commission to confirm if Israel is complying with Human Rights. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Israel should ‘stop and think seriously’ before launching its ground invasion. Beijing demanded Israel ‘stop all military operations.’
The Arab League warned that an offensive on Rafah would spell a ‘humanitarian disaster.’ Egypt has stated that any spillover from an attack on Rafah could mean the end of their peace treaty with Israel. If Egypt does so, Jordan would follow, resulting in Israel being ringed with hostile states. Jordan’s King Abdullah stated while visiting the White House, ‘We cannot stand by and let this continue.’
Qatar and Saudi Arabia commented that the invasion would have dire consequences. An attack on Rafah would achieve what the Hamas had initially desired, the end of Arab-Israeli reproachment, resulting in additional insecurity to Israel and support to their cause. South Africa submitted an ‘urgent request’ to the International Court of Justice to assess if Israel’s assault on Rafah would be a breach of the court’s orders.
While India has not directly indicated its stance on a possible attack on Rafah, the National Security Advisor (NSA), Ajit Doval, met Netanyahu last week in Tel Aviv. The MEA spokesperson stated ‘the NSA called on the Israeli Prime Minister and discussed developments in Gaza. He emphasised the delivery of humanitarian aid and assistance and discussed steps being taken or undertaken for the release of hostages.’
The Israeli viewpoint remains that unless Hamas is destroyed, it would re-emerge with time. Further, apart from destroying Hamas, Tel Aviv insists it must maintain complete control over Gaza, if it has to ensure its security. This implies that Israel retains the right to establish settlements in Gaza. Israel is also demanding an end to the United Nations Works and Relief Agency, claiming its personnel were involved in the 07 Oct attack, which has been denounced by the EU Humanitarian chief, mentioning ‘Israel has no proof.’
Tel Aviv also refuses to endorse the global view of a two-state solution, indicating its intent to enhance settlements on Palestinian lands.Differences between Israel and its backers are rising by the day.
Israelis have also been impacted by the war. Over 75,000 have been displaced due to attacks by the Hezbollah, businesses stalled, casualties mounting and its economy sinking. Houthi attacks have also hit global shipping, leading to retaliatory strikes. There are reports that the Houthi’s possess Hypersonic missiles which could add to threats.
Once more the UNSC, created to prevent wars, has failed. The US vetoes any anti-Israel resolution, while Russia and China block attempts to blame Hamas. No wonder India leads in demanding that the UNSC needs to be revamped. The current scenario is that the world watches, while innocents pay the price for Hamas’s misadventures, while leaders of the organization remain safely esconed in Qatar.
The US, despite all its criticism and frustration, will continue to back Israel by providing it with arms, ammunition and funds, while providing relief to the besieged population of Rafah. US tacit backing is what gives Netanyahu the confidence to continue with his operation despite global warnings.
At the end of the day, no side will emerge the winner. Israel’s military and technological reputation has taken a beating. Its normalization of ties with the Arab world have been stonewalled. High civilian casualties will result in Israel having enemies within its own borders. Tel Aviv could face additional accusations of human rights and possibly even genocide. To maintain control over Gaza and the West Bank would mean suppressing the local populace adding to an anti-Israel sentiment. Anti-Semitism will rise globally with attacks on innocent Jews.
The author is Major General (Retd)