US, Israel holding virtual follow-up meeting on Rafah

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

WASHINGTON — Top US and Israeli officials are holding a follow-up virtual meeting this morning to discuss a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, a US official tells The Times of Israel.

The US side in today’s meeting will be led by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, while the Israeli side will be headed by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chair Tzachi Hanegbi.

The first virtual meeting was held on April 1 after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heeded US President Joe Biden’s request to create the forum.

Washington is looking to use these meetings to convince Israel to pursue alternatives to a wide offensive in the southernmost Gaza city that it has said it plans to launch.

Israel has said it will only move forward with the offensive after evacuating the over one million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, establishing mechanisms to ensure that their humanitarian needs will be provided, and coordinating with Egypt.

The US is largely unconvinced that Israel will be able to pull off such a large-scale evacuation in a manner that ensures the safety of the civilians in Rafah.

Instead, it is pushing for Israel to pursue more targeted operations against Hamas leaders in Rafah while coordinating with Cairo in order to secure the Egypt-Gaza border, creating an underground wall to prevent weapons smuggling and choke off the remaining terror elements in the area, a second US official tells The Times of Israel.

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