Why Israel is so determined to launch an offensive in Rafah

Israel is determined to launch a ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, a plan that has raised global alarm over possible harm to the hundreds of thousands of civilians taking refuge there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel cannot achieve its goal of “complete victory” against Hamas without tackling Rafah.

Israel has approved military plans for its offensive. But with 1.4 million Palestinians crammed into the city, Israel’s allies, including the United States, have demanded greater care for civilians in their anticipated incursion.

Most of those Palestinians have been displaced by fighting elsewhere in Gaza and live in densely populated tent camps or crammed into apartments.

Netanyahu is sending a delegation to Washington to present his plans to the administration.

WHY RAFAH IS SO CRITICAL

Since Israel declared war in response to Hamas’ deadly cross-border attack on October 7, Netanyahu has stated that one of his main goals is to destroy the Islamic group’s military capabilities.

Israel claims Rafah is Hamas’ last major stronghold in the Gaza Strip, after operations elsewhere dismantled 18 of the militant group’s 24 battalions, according to the military.

Israel claims Hamas has four battalions in Rafah and must send ground forces to take them down. Some high-ranking militants could also be hiding in the city.

WHY THERE IS SO MUCH OPPOSITION TO ISRAEL’S PLAN

The United States has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to evacuate civilians. Egypt, Israel’s strategic partner, has said any move to push Palestinians toward Egypt would threaten its four-decade peace deal with Israel.

In a phone call with Netanyahu this week, President Joe Biden told the Israeli leader not to carry out a Rafah operation, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said. He said the United States was looking for “an alternative approach” that did not involve a ground invasion.

ISRAEL DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE CLOSE TO SENDING TROOPS

Netanyahu said he was sending a delegation to Washington “out of respect” for Biden. But in a statement Wednesday, he said he had told Biden that Israel “cannot complete victory” without entering Rafah.

Despite the harsh words, Israel does not appear to be close to sending troops to Rafah. This may be related to current attempts to negotiate a temporary ceasefire. Qatari mediators say an invasion of Rafah would be a setback for talks. There are also logistical problems.

The Israeli military says it plans to direct civilians to “humanitarian islands” in central Gaza ahead of the planned offensive. Netanyahu said on Wednesday that evacuation plans had not yet been approved.

The Associated Press