Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 6 May 2024



Why Israel Must Take Rafah

“No amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone. But we know we are not alone, because countless decent people around the world support our cause.”

Early Monday morning Israel ordered the evacuation of eastern Rafah, directing civilians to safety. In the afternoon Israeli tanks advanced. The plan is to evacuate and fight in the city piece by piece, swiftly moving civilians north and west without leaving Hamas free to tie down the people as human shields.

Objections are pouring in from the usual suspects. France says displacing Rafah’s civilians is a crime. Would it prefer that Israel fight among them, or simply leave Hamas alone? Unrwa says that it will resist evacuation. The United Nations refugee agency again puts its anti-Israel ideology above the safety of Palestinian civilians.

The invasion of Rafah was made necessary on Oct. 7, when Hamas slaughtered 1,200 Israelis. At that moment it became impossible for Israel to allow Hamas to control territory, remain in power and plan the next massacre, as the terrorists pledge.

Mr. Biden’s decision to set himself against any move on Rafah is hard to understand. Since there was no other way Israel could achieve its objectives, it put the President on the side of Israeli defeat and Hamas victory.

He now has a chance to reset and support Israel so it can finish its Hamas campaign as quickly as possible. As a senior Israeli official points out, “This Administration never supports anything we do until we do it.” In October the White House privately opposed any ground invasion of Gaza. It came around when Israel did what it had to do—as it’s doing now.

Rafah hosts Hamas’s leaders, four terrorist battalions, hostages and border crossing with Egypt, from which it controls incoming aid and smuggles in military supplies. It is the crucial city for the terrorist group’s future. Only when Rafah is in danger of falling will Hamas be ready to hand over its remaining hostages.

After Israel announced the civilian evacuation on Monday, Hamas finally moved fast to submit a counteroffer. Interesting what real pressure can accomplish. Recall that after Israel blitzed Gaza City in November, Hamas released 105 hostages for a breather.

Despite media reports, by Monday night Hamas hadn’t “accepted” a genuine cease-fire-for-hostages deal. It made its own offer that Israel end the war, which means accepting defeat. In reply, Israel’s war cabinet, which includes Mr. Netanyahu’s main political rival, unanimously decided to move forward in Rafah while sending negotiators “to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement.”

If Mr. Biden wants a cease-fire that matters, he will support Israel and let Hamas remember what it’s like to negotiate with its back against the wall.

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Appeared in the May 7, 2024, print edition as 'Why Israel Must Take Rafah'.

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