Israel’s Political Position Is Now Weaker Than Before the Hamas Attack

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 13 May 2024

Patrick Cockburn – TRANSCEND Media Service

Hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children living in the east part of Rafah, migrate to the west part of the country. (Photo: Anadolu)

The Attack on Rafah, when It Occurs, Will Have Huge Consequences Internationally

6 May 2024 – The Hamas acceptance of a ceasefire agreement puts Israel under intense pressure not to begin its ground invasion of the city of Rafah, located in the south of the Gaza Strip. This had earlier appeared imminent when the Israeli army ordered the evacuation of 100,000 or more Palestinians from eastern Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli planes dropped flyers on Monday morning telling people to move to a so-called “humanitarian zone”. Israel says that it rejects the Hamas interpretation of the ceasefire agreement as “a ruse”, but it will be difficult for it to continue military operations if the deal is backed by the US, Qatar and Egypt, who have been mediating an end to the war.

“Forcing over a million displaced Palestinians from Rafah to evacuate without a safe destination is not only unlawful but would lead to catastrophic consequences,” according to the British charity ActionAid.

If the Israeli ground offensive into Rafah goes ahead it is likely to increase vastly the Palestinian death toll in Gaza, which reportedly stands at 34,683 dead, two thirds of them women and children. The director of the World Food Program, Cindy McCain, says that parts of the Gaza Strip are experiencing a “full-blown famine” that is rapidly spreading throughout the territory after almost seven months of war.

An Israeli invasion of Rafah would only make sense from the point of view of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if it is full scale so he can claim to have destroyed Hamas and won a total victory, which has been his declared objective since last October. Israeli critics of his government say that it does not have a credible plan to end the war or for what would happen afterwards.

The attack on Rafah, when it occurs, will have hugely significant consequences internationally. US efforts to forge a strategic alliance with the Arab monarchies of the Gulf look increasingly like wishful thinking. President Joe Biden’s administration has been seeking to promote a mutual defence pact with Saudi Arabia, of which Israel would be part. But the Saudis have reportedly insisted that Israel refrain from attacking Rafah, pledge to withdraw from Gaza and agree to talks on a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The war in Gaza is now sparking crises every few weeks as President Biden’s military and diplomatic support for Israel proves more and more costly for the US. Biden’s failure to restrain Israel is being interpreted in much of the world as stemming from a mix of ineffectuality and complicity.

In the US, the mass deaths of Palestinians in Rafah over the coming weeks may further energise protests at universities across the country, further reducing President Biden’s chances of re-election in November.

Both Hamas, which wants a permanent ceasefire, and Israel, which will only agree to a temporary one, blame each other for the failure to reach a deal in Cairo. But it is unlikely that Netanyahu, who has promised Israelis total victory and the elimination of Hamas, can end the war without doing either – though this may prove practically impossible.

Despite the physical destruction of most of Gaza and the deaths of tens of thousands, Israel’s political position is in many respects weaker than before the Hamas attack on 7 October. The Palestinian question, which had been effectively marginalised, has become one of the central issues of American and world politics.

“Netanyahu had hoped that the Egyptian proposal, which was more far-reaching than anything he had been willing to accept in the past, would be rejected by Hamas,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. When this did not happen as expected, he sabotaged the potential agreement by issuing a statement, which said that, regardless of whether or not there was a temporary ceasefire, “we will enter Rafah and eliminate the remaining Hamas battalions”.

It appears as if the IDF plans incrementally to invade Rafah while claiming that it is taking measures to limit civilian casualties, but such assurances have in the past failed to do anything of the sort.

The Gaza war is once again showing its capacity to generate a major crisis every few weeks, whether it is in the form of Iran and Israel coming close to an all-out war in April or police storming campus protest sites from New York to Los Angeles in May.

An Israeli attack on Rafah means that another such crisis is in the making.

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Patrick Cockburn has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979, first for the Financial Times, then for The Independent. Foreign Commentator of the Year (Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards 2013). He is the author of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

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