Sherwin Pomerantz

The 215th Day of War in Israel

The IDF said on Tuesday that its tanks had entered Rafah in southern Gaza and had seized control of the city’s critical border crossing with Egypt in what it called a limited operation to eliminate Hamas fighters and infrastructure that had been used to attack and kill four Israeli soldiers on Sunday. The incursion did not appear to be the long-anticipated full-scale invasion of Rafah, a city crowded with about a million Palestinians, which Israel’s allies have been working to avert by pushing for a cease-fire deal. International humanitarian officials said the military operation had halted the flow of aid from Egypt into Gaza, exacerbating extreme hunger and privation in the besieged territory.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’s last bastion, home to several battalions hiding out, and a critical gateway for arms shipments smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. But the city has also become a refuge for Palestinians who have fled Israeli bombardment in other parts of Gaza, and many have squeezed into tents without adequate access to food, water and sanitation.

Rafah is also a main entry point for humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza from Egypt. But Israel closed that entry point on Tuesday, as well as the Kerem Shalom crossing. Hamas had claimed responsibility for killing four Israeli soldiers in a rocket attack that was fired from Rafah toward Kerem Shalom on Sunday.

President Biden on Tuesday condemned a “ferocious surge of antisemitism” in the United States following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israel and said people were already forgetting the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance, Mr. Biden tied the anti-Jewish sentiment that led to the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews directly to Oct. 7.  “This ancient hatred of Jews didn’t begin with the Holocaust,” he said. “It didn’t end with the Holocaust, either.”

“I have not forgotten, nor have you,” he told the crowd of more than 100, including Holocaust survivors. “And we will not forget.” Since the outset of the war, Mr. Biden has faced criticism from Arab Americans and Palestinians who have said they don’t hear Mr. Biden talk about the plight of their people with the same empathy and emotion that he uses to describe Israel and the Jewish people.

The Biden administration appeared to signal its initial approval of the operation launched by Israel early Tuesday morning to take over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Spokespeople for the administration said the goals of the operation were legitimate, but warned that this assessment could change if the offensive expands in scope and leads to an extended hampering of aid shipments into Gaza. US officials sought to distinguish between the actions Israel has so far taken and a potential more significant military operation, which they continue to oppose due to fears that the million-plus Palestinians sheltering in Rafah would be put at risk.

The Biden administration on Tuesday night confirmed report that it had recently held up a large shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs that it feared Israel might use in a major ground operation in the densely populated southern Gaza city of Rafah. This is the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war that the US has held up a weapons shipment for the IDF, which it has been supplying on a near-constant basis since October 7.

The US held a pair of virtual meetings with top Israeli officials in recent months to express concerns regarding a potential Rafah operation and to present alternatives for how Israel could target Hamas in the city without conducting a full-scale invasion. Those talks will continue, but the White House determined that they were insufficient in getting its concerns across, a senior Biden administration official told The Times of Israel. “As Israeli leaders seemed to approach a decision point last month on such an operation, we began to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah,” the official said.

Hopefully the negotiators from both sides now in Cairo for talks will find a way out the current morass. Time will tell.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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