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Greenlight Pending: Where Does US Stand On Israel's Rafah Operation?

12.02.2024 14:12

US ‘has reached a point where it cannot risk its image further in the region,’ says Palestinian researcher Moath al Amoudi Washington ‘may lean toward giving Israel the green light based on Israeli assurances that are not likely to be fulfilled in the near term,’ according to al Amoudi...

As apprehensions grow and warnings pick up over Israel's ground operation in Rafah, a key factor in the equation remains the US and its stance on the issue.

The key takeaway from President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Sunday phone call was the former's demand that "a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan."

That has consistently been the line of messaging from Washington, which remains the main supporter of Israel's deadly war on Gaza, but has been reluctant about a ground offensive in Rafah.

The reasoning put forward by US officials has centered on the massive number of displaced Palestinians sheltering in the area next to the border with Egypt.

However, despite no clear go-ahead from Washington, Israel has already started targeting Rafah with air and artillery attacks. More than 100 people were killed in overnight strikes, Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported early Monday.

On the US and its hesitance to back Israel at the moment, observers like Moath al-Amoudi, a Palestinian researcher focusing on international relations, believe there is more at play.

Al-Amoudi believes the Biden administration is looking out for itself and its image in the current scenario, particularly with the US presidential election inching closer.

The US "has reached a point where it cannot risk its image further in the region, especially due to the extent of the massacres committed by Israel in Gaza, which primarily affects the image of the United States," he told Anadolu.

"If the United States does not give Israel the green light for a military operation in Rafah, it may necessarily mean shifting towards diplomatic efforts aimed at de-escalation, paving the way for a cease-fire and discussions about the post-war period," he said.

However, al-Amoudi feels the US "may lean toward giving Israel the green light for the military operation based on Israeli assurances that are not likely to be fulfilled in the near term, especially regarding civilians and humanitarian aid as a priority."

"This step fundamentally pushes towards expanding the conflict in the region in a way that the US does not desire," he added.

Flood of warnings

Another vocal opponent to an Israeli ground assault on Rafah is Egypt, a country that al-Amoudi said views the issue as a matter of "national security concern."

"Egypt regards the border issue with Rafah as a national security concern, fearing that a military incursion could trigger the mass migration of hundreds of thousands to the Sinai," he said.

"It further asserts that civilians in Gaza fall under Israeli occupation per international law."

Egyptian officials have explicitly "warned that if any Palestinians were forced to cross into the Sinai Peninsula, a decades-long peace treaty between the two countries would be suspended," according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The report said Egypt fears that "a flood of Palestinians will try to flee the war zone, (and) is reinforcing its border fences, adding cameras, watchtowers, and sensors."

The same concerns were echoed in a Jerusalem Post report on Jan. 31 about a meeting involving the heads of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, its internal security agency Shin Bet and the Egyptian intelligence.

In those discussions, Egyptian officials "objected on the grounds that any IDF (Israeli army) invasion of Rafah could unwittingly lead to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pushing into Egypt in panic."

Egyptian officials also said the Israeli operation "might undermine its sovereignty," expressing concern over Israel's "expansionist war moves prior to a clear understanding of when the IDF will leave Gaza and how the area will be managed after the IDF's withdrawal," the report said.

The apprehension expressed by the US and Egypt have converged with strong warnings to Israel from around the world, including European countries like the UK, France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark, along with Middle Eastern powers such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Top UN officials have also spoken against the plan, with Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, saying that a military offensive in a place where there are 1.4 million "completely exposed, vulnerable people is a recipe for disaster."

According to Ahmed al-Soufi, head of the Rafah municipality, the area's population has gone up from around 300,000 before Oct. 7, 2023 to above 1.3 million.

The population density in Rafah is considered the highest in the history of wars, with a large number of displaced people crowded into an area not exceeding 24.3 square miles (63.1 square kilometers), according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

The area only has three small hospitals and some health centers that cannot handle surgical procedures due to a lack of medical supplies, the Health Ministry in Gaza has warned.

Israel seeking 'concessions for negotiations'

Israel holds the view that discussions about any political resolution in Gaza are contingent upon the elimination of Hamas.

Netanyahu recently said, "It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war of eliminating Hamas by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah."

Al-Amoudi believes that this is an Israeli tactic to "promote its plans to relocate the displaced people from Rafah to Khan Younis or the northern Gaza Strip."

"However, it faces a dilemma regarding the possibility of Hamas reorganizing its military ranks, especially since Israel has not fully secured control over the northern areas," he said.

He said Hamas is continuing its operations in the areas of Israeli advancement in Gaza City and its north, as well as in Khan Younis.

In the current situation, he said the Palestinian group "has been pushed onto a one-way path, which is resistance and defending the areas penetrated" by Israel.

According to Al-Amoudi, Israel's Rafah operation could also possibly be a tactic "to extract greater concessions for negotiations with Hamas." -

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