Israel moves to more limited Rafah assault plan, to which US will not object – report

Washington Post analyst says plan to send two divisions into south Gaza city has been shelved, unnamed Israeli defense officials have agreed on how ‘day after’ will look

IDF soldiers operate in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip in a photo cleared for publication on May 20, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers operate in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip in a photo cleared for publication on May 20, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has decided to shelve plans for a major offensive in the Gaza Strip’s southern city of Rafah, and will act in a more limited manner, after discussions with the US on the matter, Washington Post analyst David Ignatius reported Monday.

Ignatius said, based on conversations with unidentified officials with knowledge of the matter, that a previous plan to send two divisions into the city will not move forward, and operations will instead be more restrained.

Washington believes the new plans will result in fewer civilian casualties and thus is not expected to oppose them, Ignatius wrote.

He wrote that after US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Saudi and Israeli officials this week, Washington had signposted “the direction of a gradual end to Israeli combat operations and the beginning of a still-fuzzy ‘day after.'”

The report said that unspecified Israeli defense officials have also agreed on how Gaza will look at the conclusion of the war.

“[It] will include a Palestinian security force drawn in part from the Palestinian Authority’s administrative payroll in Gaza. This Palestinian force will be overseen by a governing council of Palestinian notables, backed by moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia,” Ignatius wrote. “Some Israeli officials — but not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — accept that this governing entity would have ties with the PA in Ramallah.”

Palestinians look at the rubble of a bombed out building in Rafah in southern Gaza on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

Ignatius said additionally that Hamas has signaled that it “might” accept this outline as part of a truce and hostage deal.

However, the columnist noted that Monday’s announcement by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, that he had requested arrest warrants from the court’s judges for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with top Hamas leaders, could have an as yet unknown impact.

The report came after the Israeli military estimated that some 950,000 Palestinians had evacuated the Rafah area, as ground forces operate in the eastern part of the city.

The military claims it learned from past experiences when it came to evacuating the population in Rafah, which was carried out at a much faster pace than the United States had predicted.

A picture shows a view of a deserted displacement camp area east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Some 300,000 to 400,000 civilians remain in Rafah, mostly in the coastal area and some parts of the center of the city, according to information seen by The Times of Israel. More than a million Palestinians were sheltering in the city before the IDF pushed into the area.

The IDF believes that some Hamas operatives and members of other terror groups fled Rafah with the population to the humanitarian zone, as there are no Israeli checkpoints.

Rafah has been seen by the IDF as Hamas’s last major stronghold in Gaza,  where four of its remaining battalions are located. Two more Hamas battalions remain in central Gaza, in the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah camps.

Israel believes Hamas leaders and many operatives are hiding in Rafah, and also that an unspecified number of the 124 remaining hostages kidnapped in the Hamas-led October 7 atrocities are being held in the city.

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on May 18, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The city in southern Gaza is also one of the last locations where Hamas was believed by the IDF to have major rocket stockpiles. The IDF believes that Hamas has the capability to launch rocket attacks on central Israel from the Rafah area, and when troops advance further into the city, the terror group is likely to carry out such an attack.

The IDF still maintains control of the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, which had been a major conduit of humanitarian aid into the enclave. The crossing has remained shuttered since the IDF seized control of the Gazan side on May 7, as Egypt has insisted that it will not allow deliveries to resume until the Gazan side of the crossing is back under Palestinian control.

At the same time, there were ongoing operations along the so-called Philadelphi Corridor, separating Egypt and Gaza.

The IDF has so far captured only about half of the corridor — in eastern Rafah — which runs for a total of 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) all along the Gaza-Egypt border.

In December, Netanyahu said that Israel would need to take control of the entire corridor to ensure that Gaza is and remains demilitarized and to prevent weapons from being smuggled through tunnels from Egypt into the coastal enclave.

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