Giovanni Giacalone
Eyes everywhere

The IDF needs to fully enter Rafah with its divisions and finish the job

Map of Rafah as taken by Google maps. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.

In the last few months, we heard everything and the contrary of everything regarding the IDF intervening deeply into Rafah to take out what is left of the Hamas battalions and its Gaza leadership.

The Biden administration repeatedly warned Israel against a major military offensive in Rafah, stating that there was no way to enter without harming the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering there.

Israel very recently decided to put aside plans for a major offensive in Rafah, and will act in a more limited manner, after discussions with the US on the matter. A previous plan to send two divisions into the city will not move forward, and operations will instead be more restrained.

According to the Biden administration, Israel is now in line with Washington’s concerns and the new plans have been indicated as “initially satisfactory.”

While it is yet unclear what this “initially satisfactory” means, it is essential to ask ourselves, once again, why Israel needs US approval to defend itself and eradicate a terrorist organization that perpetrated the worst massacre against the Jewish people after the Shoah.

The Biden administration has been trying to hold back Israel’s effort to eradicate Hamas since the very beginning of the Gaza campaign and, despite all the political and media noise about the “humanitarian issue,” it appears quite clear that the real issue is the Biden administration’s relations with Qatar and Iran, the two main sponsors of Hamas.

The withholding of weapons, already paid by Israel, for fear that they would be used in Rafah, and the deal-trap that emerged in early May, as planned by Egypt and Hamas, with no warning by the Biden administration despite being aware of it, are clear actions, and we all know that actions count much more than words do. As Washington did not inform Israel about the changes made, intense Israeli disappointment with the US administration and suspicion regarding its role as a mediator were obviously triggered (and we already discussed these issues and the Biden administration being “an Obama third term” here).

Additional suspicion falls on Egypt, another theoretical partner of Israel in the war on terror that was totally against the IDF intervention in the Philadelphi corridor. Isn’t it interesting how the IDF uncovered around 50 tunnels connecting Rafah to Egyptian territory?

In addition, the fact that the Biden administration held “indirect negotiations” with the Iranian regime on the nuclear deal just two weeks after Iran launched over 300 drones and missiles against Israel makes the whole picture far more concerning.

Biden’s foreign policy objectives in the Middle East are not in line with Israel’s need for security, which implies the eradication of Hamas and the neutralization of the Iranian threat. As pointed out by Senator Ted Cruz while facing Antony Blinken in a heated Senate hearing: “Your foreign policy is precisely backward from what a rational American foreign policy should be.”

Placing politics aside and speaking about operational matters, it will be very difficult for the IDF to enter Rafah, go after Sinwar and Deif, destroy the hundreds of tunnels underneath and terminate the remaining four battalions without sending in the required divisions.

Last week American/Israeli counter-terrorism expert and veteran Aaron Cohen told Fox News how important it is for the IDF to enter Rafah with ground troops. Cohen explained that the reason why Rafah is the center of the remaining battalions of Hamas is that the “pressure-cooker” campaign conducted by the IDF aimed, from the very beginning, to force the remaining terrorists into Rafah, adding that the only way to take out the remaining terrorists is not only through selective operations, but by going into Rafah with troops:

Those units need to clear all those 90° angles, they need to get barrels inside of rooms, they need to get those drones inside, that’s the nature of unconventional warfare.

One thing needs to be clear, Hamas will never release the remaining hostages because it’s the only leverage the terrorist organization has, and this situation would only extend in time, to the advantage of Hamas. Therefore, the “pressure for negotiations” mantra is nonsense and it should have been clear by now.

The IDF must go into Rafah and “finish the job” with the Hamas leadership and the remaining units. This can only be done by sending in the divisions. There are no “more restrained” plans that could allow reaching the objective, and anyone who has some battlefield or counter-terrorism experience knows this.

Time has run out, and Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to decide which path to take, because the “one foot here-one foot there” method is of no advantage to the objective of eradicating Hamas, and freeing the remaining hostages; in addition, this situation is a problem for Israel’s economy and the return to normality. The last thing Israel needs is a long attrition war like the one in Ukraine, and this is the direction we are currently seeing, unfortunately.

About the Author
Giovanni Giacalone is a senior analyst in Islamist extremism and terrorism at the Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies-Catholic University of Milan, at the Europe desk for the UK-based think tank Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism, and a researcher for Centro Studi Machiavelli. Since 2021 he is the coordinator for the "Latin America group" at the International Institute for the Study of Security-ITSS. In 2023 Giacalone published the book “The Tablighi Jamaat in Europe”.
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