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How to Win Rafah Without Losing a Single Soldier

A map of Gaza. Image via Wikitravel.

If Israel invades Rafah, President Biden declared, “I’m not supplying the weapons.” Cease-fire talks have stalled. The American State Department has stated that Israel may have broken international law in Gaza. These developments should deeply concern every Israeli. And no, not because “Hamas ❤️ Biden,” or because Biden ❤️ Hamas. 

Say what you want about Yair Lapid. He was right a year ago, and he is right now: Israel is “losing [its] deterrence…[because] Israel has become a country” without a manager. Netanyahu’s war has likewise become a war without a plan. 

That is why flawed AI tools may be shaping the battle more than qualified Israeli professionals. That is why bombs meant to kill Hamas have instead killed World Central Kitchen workers, the same workers who once served meals to Israeli hostages and to Israelis “displaced from their homes as a result of the October attack.” What insanity. Need I say more? As Lapid put it so presciently a year earlier, “[t]he problem is” squarely “with leadership.” Sorry, let me rephrase that. The problem is squarely with the Netanyahu leadership. After all, the Israeli War Cabinet is simply there to contain the man’s damage. 

I said in my last article that this war was Israel’s Vietnam. In truth, the comparison falls far short of the Israeli reality. Israel’s Vietnam is much worse than America’s Vietnam or America’s Iraq. From the very beginning, Sinwar and his ilk have used people like Ben-Gvir to entangle Israel in an unwinnable conflict fought largely on Hamas’s terms. First, Sinwar and Ben-Gvir alike have politically empowered an incompetent, petty, and all-around unpopular Netanyahu—the same Netanyahu who made it his mission to prop up Hamas in the first place. Second, Ben-Gvir and Sinwar alike have made a point of stoking tensions in the West Bank, with possibly disastrous consequences for Israel. Third, and most important of all, Sinwar and Ben-Gvir alike have consistently worked to obstruct a cease-fire deal.   

Sinwar, unfortunately, has gotten everything he wanted and more. I can just imagine what he must be thinking.  Just wait a little while longer, he must be saying to himself. Bide your time. Because someday Netanyahu will declare “mission accomplished.” When he does, Sinwar will plot out his next attack. Hamas is already starting to reestablish its reign of terror and civilian neglect in the northern parts of Gaza. Why do we think the same will not happen in Rafah? Again, like I said in my last article, the clock is ticking, and time is not on Israel’s side. Iran and Hezbollah are waiting for the perfect time to spark a multiregional war. China is waiting for the perfect time to do Iran’s bidding via “negotiations” and “unity talks.” Finally, the West Bank is in danger of exploding like an intifada firecracker. How much more can Israel take? And how willing is it to “stand and fight alone” on three or more fronts? 

Israel needs to do all it can to avoid this nightmare of nightmare scenarios. Which is why I want to answer the concerns of more reasonable Israelis. For example, is [e]nding the war without clearing out Rafah…like sending a firefighter to extinguish 80% of the fire?” With all due respect, has the war in Khan Yunis really extinguished the fire in Khan Yunis? The embers always kindle anew to create a new fire. I repeat, Rafah will be no different. Unless…the Israeli government makes a decisive turn away from the Netanyahu strategy. First, that means getting rid of Netanyahu “with all deliberate speed.” Israelis overwhelmingly disapprove of him, and Netanyahu’s only excuse for not holding him accountable now is that elections are “too divisive” for this time of crisis. So, skip the elections. Pressure the members of the Likud Party and the Knesset at large to support a constructive vote of no-confidence against Netanyahu and for his only viable alternative, Benny Gantz

Otherwise, assure the Likud Party that they will face significant losses come next election season. They’re not stupid. They have seen the polls. I sincerely doubt every single Likud politician in the Knesset would be willing to impale their political careers on such a universally unpopular man—should the Israeli people give them that ultimatum. Remember, this is not about partisan politics. Ultimately, Netanyahu lacks the character and competence to lead Israel into anything but a collective suicide mission. A mere third of Israelis “believe [Netanyahu] prioritizes what is best for the country” for a reason. Whether you are hawk or dove, secular or Orthodox, you all agree that no one can trust Bibi. He has somehow found a way to alienate just about everyone. 

Second, make Israel’s approach to Gaza an international one, with a clear and coherent plan. Put life first. Secure a cease-fire to get all the hostages home. Recognize the sovereignty of the West Bank as separate from Gaza, to prevent its fractured militant movements from coalescing around Hamas or something worse. Finally, join forces with the Gazans courageous enough to take on Hamas directly. Israeli airstrikes have sadly been killing many of these people, and they will kill many more if such strikes continue. Instead of permitting that to happen, draw on the silent anger many Gazans harbor towards Hamas. Build on the legacies of the anti-Hamas protests that “have broken out periodically since 2019.” Create the conditions for an uprising against Sinwar and everything he represents. Generate a political atmosphere that will fully exploit the already-existing political divisions within Hamas itself. In short, deliver the fatal blow to Hamas from within. Even now, they are weak and on the run. Use this unique opportunity to deliver Sinwar a particularly humiliating defeat. 

That is how Israel takes Gaza City. That is how Israel takes Khan Yunis. And that is how Israel will take Rafah. 

About the Author
David Salzillo Jr. is a recent graduate from Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
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