US Officials See Strategic Failure in Israel’s Rafah Invasion

A cloud of smoke rises from eastern Rafah after an Israeli raid (AFP)
A cloud of smoke rises from eastern Rafah after an Israeli raid (AFP)
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US Officials See Strategic Failure in Israel’s Rafah Invasion

A cloud of smoke rises from eastern Rafah after an Israeli raid (AFP)
A cloud of smoke rises from eastern Rafah after an Israeli raid (AFP)

Top Biden administration officials believe they are running out of chances to persuade the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt their vision of how to end the war in Gaza and bring lasting peace in the Middle East.
The two sides are as far apart as ever on both battlefield tactics and overall strategy to achieve their shared goal of defeating Hamas.
“I think in some ways we are struggling over what the theory of victory is,” US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told a NATO youth conference in Miami on Monday. “Sometimes when we listen closely to Israeli leaders, they talk about mostly the idea of some sort of sweeping victory on the battlefield, total victory. I don’t think we believe that that is likely or possible.”
Despite having committed itself to “ironclad” support of Israel’s defense, the Biden administration believes Israel’s current strategy is not worth the cost in terms of human lives and destruction, cannot achieve its objective, and will ultimately undermine broader US and Israeli goals in the Middle East.
US Delegation
In addition to Campbell, US and Israeli diplomatic, intelligence and military officials discuss the sensitive relationship and the fraught future between the two sides, particularly if White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan fails to reach tangible results during his visit, on Sunday, to Israel.
Sullivan will be accompanied by a triad of Biden’s top aides on the issue, including National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk, presidential adviser Amos Hochstein and Derek Chollet, counselor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We have been doing a lot of work on this ... with partners in the Arab world and beyond over several months,” Blinken said at a Wednesday news conference in Kyiv. “But it’s imperative that Israel also do this work and focus on what the future can and must be.”
Israel, Blinken noted, “cannot, and says it does not want responsibility for Gaza. We cannot have Hamas controlling Gaza; we can’t have chaos and anarchy in Gaza. So there needs to be a clear concrete plan, and we look to Israel to come forward with its ideas.”
Netanyahu’s Rejection
Lately, Netanyahu acknowledged disagreements with the administration.
The two-state solution that the United States and most of the rest of the world have advocated for decades “would be the greatest reward for the terrorists that you can imagine ... giving them a prize. And secondly, it would be a state that would be immediately taken over by Hamas and Iran,” Netanyahu said.
Instead, he said a path forward in Gaza might be Palestinian administration, similar to what now exists on the West Bank, with Israel retaining “certain sovereign powers,” including all military and security functions and control over what and who crosses Gaza’s borders.
To the Biden administration that is a recipe for ongoing strife.
US intelligence officials share White House doubts that Hamas can be fully defeated.
The intelligence community reported in its annual threat assessment in February that Israel probably will face lingering armed resistance from Hamas for years to come.
Scorched Earth
To end the war in the short term and gain the release of the hostages, administration officials have pressed since the early months of the war an alternative to Israel’s scorched earth tactics of relentless attacks on dense urban areas, urging more intelligence-based, precise targeting.
The Washington Post quoted current and former US officials said it can be difficult to know precisely how the US-provided intelligence is used.
They said the task of persuading the Israelis to change course has become much harder with the ongoing failure of US-backed negotiations offering a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who utilized the “clear, hold and build” strategy to counter al-Qaeda forces in Iraq, said that Israel’s “punitive” clearing operations in Gaza, without any follow-up to hold territory or rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods for Palestinian civilians, would only result in Hamas reconstituting within an angry and alienated population.
A broad, armored invasion into Rafah would ensure a quagmire and lead to more civilian deaths, said Alon Pinkas a veteran Israeli diplomat and former senior government adviser. “Wake up,” Pinkas said. “‘Toppling Hamas’ is only possible through diplomatic means.”
The US officials pointed to the substantial effort exerted by the Biden administration to preserve the crucial relationship between Egypt and Israel. They said it has also worked to persuade Arab states to normalize their historically tense relations with Israel as a long-term security bulwark against Iran and its proxies, including Hamas, and to help secure and rebuild Gaza as part of a new Palestinian state.

 



More than a 100 Killed in Gaza in 24 Hours

Smoke from Israeli bombardment billows in the background near an area previously housing displaced Palestinians leaving Rafah towards Khan Younis on June 20, 2024, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Smoke from Israeli bombardment billows in the background near an area previously housing displaced Palestinians leaving Rafah towards Khan Younis on June 20, 2024, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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More than a 100 Killed in Gaza in 24 Hours

Smoke from Israeli bombardment billows in the background near an area previously housing displaced Palestinians leaving Rafah towards Khan Younis on June 20, 2024, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Smoke from Israeli bombardment billows in the background near an area previously housing displaced Palestinians leaving Rafah towards Khan Younis on June 20, 2024, in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

 At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.
One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip's eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta told Reuters. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, of whom 101 were killed in the past 24 hours, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: "A short while ago, army fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City."
It said more details would be released soon.
Hamas did not comment on the Israeli claim to have hit its military infrastructure. It said in a statement the attacks targeted the civilian population and vowed in a statement "the occupation and its Nazi leaders will pay the price for their violations against our people."
Footage obtained by Reuters showed dozens of Palestinians rushing out to search for victims amid the destroyed houses. The footage showed wrecked homes, blasted walls, and debris and dust filling the street in Shati refugee camp.

More than eight months into the war, Israel's advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the centre.
Residents said Israeli tanks deepened their incursion into western and northern Rafah areas in recent days. On Saturday Israeli forces bombed several areas from air and the ground, forcing many families living in areas described as humanitarian-designated zones to leave northwards.
The Israeli military said forces continued "precise, intelligence-based" targeted operations in Rafah, killing many Palestinian gunmen and dismantling military infrastructure.
On Friday, the Gaza health ministry said at least 25 Palestinians were killed in Mawasi in western Rafah and 50 wounded. Palestinians said a tank shell hit a tent housing displaced families.