Israel Will Attack Rafah, but Will Still Lose the War – ANALYSIS

The invasion of Rafah is back in the news. (Design: Palestine Chronicle)

By Palestine Chronicle Editors

If Rafah was important, in fact the most important, in Israel’s military calculations, it would have been the first, not the last target of the Israeli war. But Rafah is important, not militarily but politically. 

The invasion of Rafah is back in the news, following a short hiatus related to the Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel on April 13. 

The Iranian attack was itself an outcome of a desperate Israeli attempt at distracting from its military defeat in Gaza. If Israel had hoped that by attacking the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 – resulting in the killing of 13 Iranians, including seven army officers – it would ignite a regional war, Tel Aviv, for now, has clearly failed. 

So, now back to Gaza, particularly Rafah, the Strip’s southernmost town, whose population has swelled since the start of the war from about 200,000 to over 1.2 million. 

‘In the Name of Humanity’ – WHO Chief Warns Israel on Rafah Invasion

Invasion Approved

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer are holding a virtual meeting on Thursday about a possible Israeli invasion of Rafah, Axios reported citing unnamed US officials. 

According to a report published by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Wednesday, the US approved a potential invasion of Rafah in exchange for Israel not responding to Iran’s retaliatory attack. 

Axios however, reported that “the officials flatly denied reports that the Biden administration gave a green-light for an operation in Rafah if Israel declines to strike Iran in retaliation for last weekend’s unprecedented attack.”

According to Axios, Thursday’s meeting “will be the second such meeting in recent weeks. An in-person meeting scheduled to take place in Washington this week was postponed because of the Iranian attack.”

No Military Value

This kind of language, equating between the invasion of Rafah and a strategic response to Iran’s unprecedented show of force, is misleading, as it gives the impression that the invasion of Rafah is as critical for Tel Aviv as is reclaiming its regional reputation. But is it?

If one is to scan through Israeli official statements and even mainstream media analyses, in the first days of the genocidal war on Gaza, one is to realize that Rafah did not seem to present a pressing issue for Israel – neither politically nor militarily.

In fact, the Israeli invasion of Gaza began in the northern region, before focusing on central Gaza for a short while, retreating once more before attacking the city of Khan Yunis and its environs. 

‘There is a date’ – Netanyahu Vows to Press Ahead with Rafah Invasion 

And with each military campaign, Israel devised the kind of political discourse that would suggest that that specific region and that particular military operation is the most important. So, for a while, Israel promoted the idea that the Shifa Hospital, for example, was the headquarters of the Palestinian group Hamas, before shifting focus on Bureij and Maghazi, then declaring that Khan Yunis is the capital of the Palestinian Resistance movement. 

If Rafah was important, in fact the most important, in Israel’s military calculations, it would have been the first, not the last target of the Israeli war. 

But Rafah is important, not militarily but politically. 

Why Rafah? 

When it became clear that all of Israel’s military objectives in Gaza had failed, Israeli politicians, starting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, began shifting their language. 

“We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave them. You know, I have a red line,” Netanyahu said last month when asked whether Israeli forces would move into Rafah.

“Those who think we are delaying (the invasion of Rafah) will soon see that there is no place we cannot reach,” Gallant echoed the prime minister’s words.

If the shift was indeed motivated by military logic, the sudden realization that Rafah was the most important of all of Israel’s targets reflects the haphazardness of the Israeli war. 

Though, indeed, the Israeli war is Tel Aviv’s most chaotic military adventure yet, the growing focus on Rafah was motivated by several objectives.  

Vision of ‘Total Victory’ – How Rafah Became Netanyahu’s Last Fig Leaf

First, by setting yet a new target, Netanyahu wanted to prolong his war on the Strip and to distract from his ongoing failures on all battlefronts throughout Gaza. 

Second, the invasion of Rafah became one of very few meeting points between all Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu’s far-right ministers, his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and even War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz – who opposes Netanyahu on most other issues. 

Netanyahu, as a clever politician, wants to exploit this common ground as much as possible. This explains the constant delays in carrying out the much-touted invasion. 

Three, Israel estimates that due to the high concentration of the refugee population in Rafah, the Palestinian Resistance must feel a degree of vulnerability in that region, limiting their ability to fight with the same degree of intensity as they did throughout Gaza. 

But Netanyahu is wrong because the Palestinian Resistance has proved adaptable regardless of the geographic and demographic condition of the battlefield. 

Additionally, Israel’s western partners, including Washington, have insisted that the population of Rafah would have to be ‘removed’ elsewhere for Israel to carry out its military campaign. 

Discreetly and without much fanfare, many displaced Palestinians in Rafah have been slowly trickling back to the central and northern regions of Gaza. Whether Israel has intentionally allowed for such a return or not, it has clearly not developed a strategy to prevent it. 

Fourth, the importance of Rafah to Israel is largely strategic, namely the fact that it borders Egypt and it is the immediate access point for international aid. 

‘Netanyahu is Lying about Rafah’ – Israeli Major General

This explains the constant focus in Israeli media on the Philadelphi Route, the strategic line separating between Gaza and Egypt, which Israel insists that it must reoccupy as a way of fully suffocating Gaza. 

But even the Israeli logic here is misleading. Israel has managed through the constant attack and massacring of aid workers to control the flow of aid to the besieged Strip. Having partial control over Rafah will not make much of a difference. 

Additionally, Israel, until 2005, was also in control of the Philadelphi Route. That neither stopped Palestinian Resistance, nor stopped the flow of weapons to the Strip. 

War Lost

Now that Israel has decided to delay its response to the Iranian retaliation, was forced to retreat from Khan Yunis under stiff Palestinian Resistance, and continued to fail in its repeated attempt to take over Nuseirat, it has no other option but to stage some kind of attack on Rafah. 

If the attack takes place after the removal of the population back to the north, then Israel’s strategic objective from the operation – ethnically cleansing Palestinians into Egypt – would have failed.

‘Israel Lost the War’ – Israeli Media Highlight Tel Aviv’s Failure in Gaza

The real crisis would be for Israel to invade Rafah with the decided aim of forcibly displacing Palestinian refugees into Sinai. The consequences of such an attempt would most likely exacerbate the chances of a wider regional war. 

But even following such an attack on Rafah, Israel would still lose the war. In fact, one would argue that the war was lost on October 7, 2023.

(The Palestine Chronicle)

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out

1 Comment

  1. I am reminded of the conclusion several years reading books on the Vietnam War forced on me – changing objectives, changing targets, changing claims of the reasons for going to war, etc, all add up to one thing – losing the war, and demoralizing the army. It’s the same script the US followed in invading Iraq – alleged reasons followed each other like rats leaving a sinking ship, and it became obvious the ship was in fact sinking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.