HomeMiddle EastIsraelIsrael Adjusts Rafah Offensive Strategy Amid US Diplomatic Efforts

Israel Adjusts Rafah Offensive Strategy Amid US Diplomatic Efforts

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Tel Aviv, May 21, 2024 – In a significant shift, Israel has decided to shelve its plans for a major offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, opting instead for a more restrained military approach. 

This decision follows extensive discussions with the United States, as reported by Washington Post analyst David Ignatius.

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According to Ignatius, the original plan involved deploying two Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) divisions into Rafah. 

However, after consultations with US officials, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the Israeli government has chosen a less aggressive strategy. 

The US believes this adjustment will lead to fewer civilian casualties, thereby not opposing the revised approach.

Ignatius detailed that the decision was influenced by recent meetings between Sullivan, Saudi, and Israeli officials, which indicated a move towards gradually ending Israeli combat operations. 

This transition will mark the beginning of what Ignatius referred to as a “still-fuzzy ‘day after'” scenario for Gaza.

Future Governance of Gaza

The report also provided insights into discussions about Gaza’s future governance post-conflict. Israeli defense officials, in agreement with the US, have outlined a vision for Gaza involving a Palestinian security force, partly drawn from the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) administrative personnel in Gaza. 

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This force would operate under a governing council of Palestinian notables, supported by moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Ignatius noted that while some Israeli officials back this plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains a notable exception, particularly regarding the council’s potential ties with the PA in Ramallah. Nevertheless, Hamas has hinted at a possible acceptance of this framework as part of a broader truce and hostage deal.

International Legal Challenges

The unfolding situation faces an additional layer of complexity following the announcement by Karim Khan, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

Khan has requested arrest warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and senior Hamas leaders. The implications of these legal actions on the ongoing conflict and diplomatic negotiations remain uncertain.

Civilian Evacuations and Military Operations

The Israeli military estimates that approximately 950,000 Palestinians have evacuated Rafah, with IDF ground forces currently operating in the eastern parts of the city. 

The rapid pace of evacuation was reportedly faster than US predictions, with around 300,000 to 400,000 civilians remaining, primarily in the coastal and central areas of Rafah.

The IDF believes some Hamas operatives have mingled with the civilian population fleeing to humanitarian zones, as there are no Israeli checkpoints in place. 

The IDF perceives Rafah as Hamas’s last major stronghold in Gaza, housing four of its remaining battalions, while two additional battalions are located in central Gaza, within the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah camps.

Israel’s military asserts that many Hamas leaders and operatives, along with a number of hostages kidnapped during the October 7 attacks, are currently hiding in Rafah. 

This city is also one of the last known locations with significant Hamas rocket stockpiles, posing a threat of continued rocket attacks on central Israel as IDF advances continue.

Strategic Control and Humanitarian Aid

The IDF maintains control over the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, a critical point for humanitarian aid entering Gaza. The crossing has been closed since May 7 following the IDF’s seizure of the Gazan side. 

Egypt has stipulated that the crossing will not reopen until it is back under Palestinian control.

Concurrently, the IDF is conducting operations along the Philadelphi Corridor, a strip separating Egypt and Gaza, to curb weapons smuggling through tunnels. Thus far, the IDF has secured only about half of this 14-kilometer corridor.

Diplomatic and Strategic Implications

The decision to scale back the Rafah offensive reflects a broader strategic and diplomatic recalibration. Israel aims to balance its security objectives with the imperative to minimize civilian casualties in alignment with US diplomatic efforts. 

This shift could pave the way for a more stable and governed Gaza, backed by a coalition of moderate Arab states.

Netanyahu’s previous statements in December underscored the importance of controlling the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent arms smuggling and ensure Gaza’s demilitarization. 

The evolving military and diplomatic strategies will likely continue to shape the region’s geopolitical landscape as both Israel and the US navigate the complex dynamics of post-conflict reconstruction and governance.

As the situation develops, the international community’s response, particularly in light of the ICC’s involvement, will be crucial in determining the future of Gaza and broader Israeli-Palestinian relations. 

The coming weeks and months will be pivotal in establishing the groundwork for a sustainable and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

 

This article was created using automation and was thoroughly edited and fact-checked by one of our staff editorial members

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