Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Netanyahu Determined to Defeat Hamas in Rafah


In open defiance of growing criticism from President Joe Biden of Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas in Gaza, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu declared during Sunday interviews on two American news networks that “victory is within reach” and that Israel will not be deterred from finishing the job of destroying Hamas by attacking its last strongholds in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, along the Egyptian border.

The Prime Minister told Fox News, “We have already destroyed three-quarters of Hamas’ organized terrorist battalions. Three-quarters, 18 out of 24 — we’re not going to leave the other six.”

He then compared Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza to the U.S.-led campaign to destroy the ISIS terrorist caliphate several years ago. Netanyahu said that if Israel stopped the war in Gaza now, leaving the six Hamas battalions still in place, it “would be like you leaving a quarter of ISIS in Iraq in place. . . Obviously, ISIS would re-establish itself. Hamas [like] ISIS would re-establish itself, too, if we don’t finish its last remaining bastion,” Netanyahu added.

The Fox News interviewer then asked Netanyahu about a critical comment made by President Biden at his impromptu White House press conference last Thursday night, calling Israeli operations in Gaza for being “over the top.”

Netanyahu responded that he was not sure what Biden meant by that statement, and then listed the many unique efforts that the Israeli military has already made, in response to American concerns, to minimize the loss of civilian life in Gaza, despite Hamas’ strategy of deliberately using Gaza’s civilians as human shields.

The White House has made no effort to deny multiple media reports that Biden has become very frustrated by Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing the war in Gaza until Hamas is completely destroyed. Biden and his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have also begun to insist publicly on the immediate creation of a Palestinian state upon the end of the fighting in Gaza, and that it be governed by the notoriously corrupt Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, effectively rewarding the Palestinians for Hamas’ heinous October 7 attack on Israel.


Back in November, one month following the October 7 attack, Biden wrote in an op-ed published by the Washington Post that, “the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own and a future free from Hamas,” but Biden failed to explain exactly how he would go about achieving those twin goals which have eluded American leaders and diplomats for the past 30 years.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and Biden spoke to each other directly on the phone for the first time in weeks. Reportedly, their 45-minute conversation focused on three issues, Israel’s planned offensive against Hamas in Rafah, ways to increase the amount of humanitarian aid reaching the civilians in Gaza, and the stalled negotiations with Hamas over another temporary pause in the fighting and the return of the Israelis being held hostage in Gaza.

According to a White House readout of their conversation, Biden “reaffirmed our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people” and “discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas.”

Biden also “emphasized the need to capitalize on progress made in the negotiations to secure the release of all hostages as soon as possible” and called for urgent and specific steps to increase humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.

Biden told Netanyahu once again that the Israeli military operation in Rafah must not proceed without provisions in place to ensure the safety of more than a million displaced Gaza civilians already living in makeshift tents around the city. But Netanyahu insists that Israel can conquer the last bastions of Hamas in Rafah while at the same time providing a safe space in Gaza outside of the combat zones for the civilians.

Netanyahu’s position that a major attack on Hamas in Rafah is essential has also been endorsed by Benny Gantz, who is one of the senior ministers in Netanyahu’s war cabinet. According to the latest Israeli opinion polls, Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, is the most likely successor to Netanyahu as prime minister after the end of the war in Gaza. Gantz said this week that Israel must do whatever is necessary to give it freedom of action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilians living there and preparing the area for a full-scale ground incursion.

On Monday, President Biden said publicly that Israel’s planned military operation in Rafah should not go forward without “a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support of [the] more than one million people sheltering [there].” The president also said, immediately following a White House meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, that the U.S. is working on a deal between Israel and Hamas that he said could bring an “immediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks,” during which time they would work toward a more permanent halt in the fighting.


According to a Wall Street Journal report, Israel has already presented Egypt with just such a proposal. It would evacuate the civilians from Rafah and move them to 15 new campsites with around 25,000 tents each and field hospitals, which would be set up and supervised by Egypt in currently vacant areas of southwest Gaza.

The Israeli prime minister has also ignored warnings from German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, that Israel’s planned attack to finish off Hamas in Rafah would be “a humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”

Last week, Netanyahu publicly rejected the response by Hamas to an Israeli-approved temporary cease-fire offer, developed in cooperation with the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar, for the phased release of the hostages still in Gaza under Hamas custody.

In their response, Hamas leaders demanded a permanent cease-fire in Gaza with a full withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza, reconstruction of all the war damage in Gaza, and the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including some with Jewish blood on their hands, in exchange for the release of the remaining Israeli hostages.

Netanyahu called the Hamas counterproposal “delusional,” because it would have left Hamas intact and still in charge of Gaza, which would be an unacceptable result for most Israelis in the wake of the October 7 attack. Netanyahu has consistently claimed that the best way for Israel to get more acceptable hostage release and temporary cease-fire terms is by increasing the military pressure on Hamas, which, in this case, is by attacking its remaining forces in Rafah. But a senior Hamas spokesman was quoted by the Hamas-run Aqsa television channel as warning that if Israel does launch a ground offensive against Rafah, it would “blow up” the negotiations to return the hostages still being held in Gaza.


Biden has also publicly warned Netanyahu that his declared intention to continue the occupation of Gaza by Israeli troops after the fighting stops to protect Israel’s security would be a “mistake.” But Netanyahu forcefully disagrees, declaring that Israel cannot afford to turn over security control over Gaza to any other party, and, in particular, to the Palestinian Authority, which took over Gaza after Israel’s voluntary disengagement in 2005, and then lost it to Hamas in a bloody coup in 2007.

The return of the 134 hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 and still being held in Gaza remains one of the highest priorities for the Israeli government in the conduct of the war. That was illustrated by the dramatic operation Sunday night in Rafah by Israel’s Shin Bet and the Yamam counter-terrorism unit which liberated Fernando Simon Marman, age 60, and Louis Har, age 70, who had been kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.

It was the first successful hostage rescue operation since the rescue of Israeli soldier Ori Megidish in late October. Two other attempts by the Israeli army to rescue hostages ended in failure. In the first attempt, the hostage was killed, and the second incident, on December 15, ended in even greater tragedy when three young Israeli men who had been kidnapped on October 7 from kibbutzim near Gaza escaped from their Hamas captors and were waving a white flag when they were misidentified as terrorists by Israeli soldiers who shot them dead.

Israeli sources said that Marman and Har were able to survive in relatively good shape because they spent most of their four months of captivity in an above-ground family home in Rafah rather than in one of Hamas’ underground tunnels.


Upon hearing the news of the rescue, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana reacted to the “impressive, heroic, and complex rescue operation” by thanking the security forces. “Finally, good news,” he said. “You’ve offered hope to an entire nation,” and then declared, concerning the remaining hostages, “We will not rest until we bring them all back.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also issued a tweet to the rescued hostages, writing “Fernando and Louis – welcome home. I salute our brave warriors for the bold action that led to their liberation. Only the continuation of military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages. We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home,” he promised.

The initial response by Hamas to the successful rescue operation was to blame the U.S. “for giving the green light to Netanyahu for the massacre the Israeli army conducted in Rafah tonight.” Hamas also claimed that nearly 70 of its people were killed during the rescue operation by Israeli covering fire.

In the meantime, major battles continue between Israeli ground forces and the Hamas units still operating in Khan Younis, in addition to smaller raids by Israeli troops, assisted by Israeli air strikes and naval artillery fire, against the remnants of Hamas forces in central and northern Gaza.

The imminent Israeli attacks on Hamas strongholds in Rafah are diplomatically sensitive because Egypt has refused to allow any Palestinians from Gaza to cross the border into the Egyptian half of the city. Over the past two weeks, Egypt has reinforced its northeast Sinai border, adjacent to Rafah. It also issued a warning to Israel against any attack that might force civilians from Gaza to rush the border and suggested that such a scenario would jeopardize the Israel-Egypt Camp David peace treaty that has been in force since 1979.


Last week, the Israeli military said that it had uncovered more evidence that connects UNRWA, (the U.N. Relief and Works Agency), which is mainly responsible for delivering health, education, and social services to Palestinian refugees living in Gaza and other refugee camps across the Middle East, to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. The latest evidence was the discovery of a network of tunnels more than 700 yards long, extending partly underneath the Gaza headquarters of UNWRA. In addition to other facilities, the tunnels housed a sophisticated Hamas computer data center running off of the main electrical cables powering the UNRWA facility on the surface above it.

After the tunnel’s discovery, Israeli army engineers took reporters from foreign news outlets on a twenty-minute inspection tour, starting with the entrance shaft next to a UNRWA school on the periphery of the U.N. compound, and descending into the concrete-lined tunnel 60 feet below ground, which included side-rooms that were used as office space, with steel safes, a tiled toilet, a large chamber designed to house computer servers, and another with industrial-quality battery stacks to provide backup power for the computers.

Hamas had removed the computers themselves when it abandoned the data center, but left behind the cut communications cables, which ran from the data center up through the floor of the basement of the UNRWA headquarters 60 feet overhead.

After the discovery of the Hamas tunnel and data complex, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz issued a call for the resignation of UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini. He claims that “UNRWA did not know what is under its headquarters. UNRWA staff left its headquarters in Gaza City on 12 October. We have not used that compound since we left it nor are we aware of any activity that may have taken place there.” But Foreign Minister Katz rejects Lazzarini’s denial of knowledge or responsibility as “not only absurd but also an affront to common sense.”

Even before the discovery of the Hamas tunnels and data center below its headquarters, UNRWA was already dealing with an internal and financial crisis, due to credible Israeli allegations that at least 12 members of UNRWA’s staff directly participated in the October 7 Hamas attack, and another 1,200 UNRWA employees are members of, or affiliated with, Hamas or Islamic Jihad. As a result of the evidence Israel presented to back up that allegation, the U.S. and several major donor countries have frozen hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for UNRWA’s budget, and Israel has called for UNRWA’s replacement in servicing Gaza’s civilians by another agency which is free of all terrorist associations.

A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that Hillel Neuer, the executive director of a group known as U.N. Watch, had also exposed a chat group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers that celebrated the October 7 Hamas attack. Neuer told Congress that the U.N. “could not possibly have been shocked that UNRWA employees are implicated in terrorism [because] we sent them reports in 2021, 2019, 2017, 2015. [But] they never contacted us for information [and] they refused our repeated written requests to meet to discuss the problem.”


The editorial recalls that from the time it was first created in 1949, “UNRWA’s function [has been] to prevent Palestinians from moving on with their lives. It blocks resettlement and state building, keeping third- and fourth-generation refugees waiting in terrorist-incubating camps for an eventual return after the destruction of Israel.”

As a result, the Wall Street Journal editors conclude, “the day after the Gaza war will be a brighter one if UNRWA and Hamas exit the stage together.”

Meanwhile, the Israeli military announced that two soldiers were killed in Gaza on Monday during the ongoing fighting with Hamas in Khan Younis, Sergeant Adi Eldor, Hy”d, age 21, from Haifa, and Sergeant Alon Kleinman, Hy”d, also age 21, from Tel Aviv. They were killed by a Hamas-launched anti-tank missile. Three more Israeli soldiers were killed by an explosion in a building to the east of Khan Younis, Lt. Colonel Netanel Yaacov Elkouby, Hy”d, age 36, from Haifa, who was battalion commander, Major Yair Cohen, Hy”d, age 30, from Ramat Gan, and Sergeant Ziv Chen, Hy”d, age 26, from Kfar Saba, raising the total number of soldiers killed in Gaza to 232, in addition to the 337 Israeli soldiers who were killed during the initial Hamas attack. However, according to veteran American author and widely respected military strategist Edward Luttwak, Israel’s losses during ground combat in Gaza have been much lower than were initially predicted because of the radically different tactics and strategies that the Israeli army has successfully implemented there.


Combat in the densely populated and built-up areas in the Gaza Strip is far more dangerous for Israeli troops than battles on open ground because the urban terrain offers so many more hiding places for snipers; terrorists firing hand-held RPG rockets; powerful explosive booby-traps hidden in half-destroyed buildings; or mines buried under the asphalt in narrow streets, set to explode under an armored vehicle or truck filled with Israeli soldiers.

That was why Luttwak and many other military experts had predicted that the Israeli ground assault in Gaza following the October 7 attack, which Hamas leaders were obviously expecting, would lead to a huge number of Israeli casualties, and result in “a bloody and strategically pointless stalemate.” This was before it became known that the Hamas network of hundreds of miles of tunnels running underneath Gaza, from which terrorists could suddenly emerge to ambush Israeli soldiers and then use to escape, was far more extensive than had previously been believed. Also, Luttwak observed, that because Gaza was so densely populated, “Hamas fighters [could pretend to] be [harmless] civilians walking alongside women and children right up until the moment they duck into the right doorway to take up prepared weapons and come out shooting” at Israeli troops.

Nevertheless, Luttwak writes in a Tablet article entitled “Why Israel Is Winning in Gaza,” that “the actual number of Israeli soldiers killed in the counteroffensive until now is not in the thousands suggested by the [skeptical military experts],” because of the innovative methods which the Israeli army has employed “to surveil, penetrate, and destroy Hamas tunnels.”

As a result, even though, as Luttwak writes, “the constraints placed on Israel’s combat operations have been very severe, and a major impediment to its fight,” the IDF has achieved a “sensational 1 to 50 kill ratio” in its fight against Hamas in Gaza. In addition, Luttwak notes, because “the Israeli air force was hardly allowed to contribute more than a fraction of its strength to the fighting, in deference to the insistent requests coming from the White House. . . the Israeli success in the fighting to date [is] all the more remarkable.”


Another factor in the unusually low Israeli casualty rate was the weeks of intensive training that Israeli regular and reserve soldiers received before the ground assault inside Gaza began. In addition, Luttwak notes, for the past 25 years, the IDF has been training special Yahalom combat engineer units that specialize in tunnel warfare by “substituting low-frequency sensors, heavy earth-moving equipment, mini-drones, and bullets for jet fighters, heavy artillery, and smart bombs,” which are much less effective when attacking terrorists who are hiding deep underground.

Finally, Luttwak has high praise for Israeli-designed military equipment, including the latest models of the 60-ton Merkava battle tank and the Namer infantry carrier which are equipped with more armor to protect their occupants than their Western-made equivalents, as well as Israel’s unique Trophy counter-weapon system, that can intercept incoming missiles and rockets at very close range.

In addition, Israel is still the world leader in the design and production of both the largest and the smallest mini-drones carrying cameras which give Israeli commanders an unparalleled view of the complicated Gaza urban battlefield.


As a result, Luttwak concludes, “The tactical victory that Hamas achieved on Oct. 7 with all its scenes of unimaginable horror has become a leading driver of its strategic defeat, by compelling the Israeli government to persist despite the atrocious plight of the hostages, by motivating IDF troops to fight until its destruction.” He adds that if the Israeli government perseveres by finishing the war in Gaza with a successful attack on Hamas in Rafah, it will be able to deliver “the well-deserved fate that awaits Hamas, and without the heavy [Israeli] casualties that some feared while others gleefully anticipated.”





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