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Will the Israeli Onslaught on Rafah ever start?

By Dr Marwan Asmar

The world waits in shock and awe as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes good on his promise to enter the beleaguered Rafah. 

With his incessant insistence, he keeps repeating not entering the city means Israel has lost the war in Gaza. But this is gross simplification because Israel has destroyed and wrecked about 80 percent of the Strip, killed under 32,000, injured over 72000 civilians and displaced 1.9 million of its people.

But despite international and White House uproar about that, fearing there would be a civilian bloodbath, Netanyahu is not listening. He says Israel has destroyed three quarters of Hamas and there is still the last quarter in Rafah.


Two things stand out here: The man is clearly delusional. According to American intelligence only 35 percent of Hamas infrastructure has been destroyed despite the mass bombing that equal four times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. The other point is that Netanyahu is facing domestic and international pressure.

This is indeed an understatement for US president Joe Biden has tried all things to put the brakes on the Israeli military onslaught termed as genocide and ethnic cleansing under the eyes of the international community. Biden is now increasing the pressure on Netanyahu, mildly threatening him not to send in troops to Rafah because of the 1.4 million civilians already assembled there as ordered by Israeli military firepower from the air.

Dual role

But on the face of it, Netanyahu doesn’t appear to be listening for the White House is stocking up Israel with military procurement and naval shipments and has been doing so for the last six months with hundreds of thousands of tons of military hardware. Biden is seen as a conspirator in this genocide on Gaza. If he really wants to have any teeth he must stop supplying these arms.

But to placate everyone in the international community and just maybe the Arab and Muslim worlds, however, he and his White House officials are seeking of what can be termed a ‘dual role’ that include portraying themselves as peacemakers who want a “genuine” deal on Gaza.

And the heat is still on. The Democrats majority leader Chuck Schumer in the US Senate, has expressed Washington’s annoyance with Netanyahu clearly, effectively saying the Israeli government has outstayed itself and must go.

Domestic pressure 

Netanyahu is also facing two types of domestic pressure from the relatives of the hostages – with 136 remaining – although the number could be dwindling because of the ongoing Israeli bombing of the Palestinian enclave. The relatives say he must reach a deal with Hamas for the release of the hostages but Netanyahu is foot-dragging, speaking of Israeli security as vital with the illusive goal of crushing Hamas.

The relatives feel the current bombing of Gaza, including the expected military onslaught on Rafah will only lead to dangerous escalation and ruin the chances of getting the hostages alive. Hamas has already stated about 70 of the hostages have been killed through deadly Israeli fire.

Domestic pressure is also coming from the military members of the Israeli war cabinet, principally from the chief of staff Herzi Halevi and military-general-turned-politician Gadi Eisenkot. They are not happy with Netanyahu for different reasons. While Eisenkot fears for the hostages Halevi has military reasons.

Army fatigue

He is concerned that the Israeli military needs more time to make a strategic move on Rafah. He fears the army is experiencing fatigue because its soldiers and officers have been fighting Palestinian resistance fighters right across the Gaza Strip. They are being battered by the Palestinian resistance, losing lots of infantry and military hardware including 1000s of troop carriers, tanks and bulldozers at astronomical costs in the billions of dollars.

Off course, the number of troop losses is being played down with Israeli army PR men messaging the figures and drastically reducing the number of deaths and injured in their ranks. But nevertheless, the real losses are far higher according to American military intelligence and echoed willingly in the Israeli media.

Such figures were reiterated recently by Jordanian Major-General Abdullah Shdeifat, an ex-deputy chief of staff. He said the real Israeli army losses stand at 14,500 officers and soldiers killed since 7 October, adding these are based on US intelligence while the number of injured stand at 45600 including 15000 with amputated limbs.

Huge losses

Shdeifat added these figures – in addition to the tens of thousands seeking psychological help in public hospitals – are forcing Netanyahu back to the negotiating table where there is presently an Israeli team in Doha, Qatar trying to reach a deal with Hamas over the hostages.

But such prospects are said to be dim for Hamas want a permanent ceasefire while the Israelis want a temporary arrangement to get their hostages freed. Hamas members are saying a permanent ceasefire or no deal; they won’t be trapped and the Israeli military machine has to stop.

So, all these issues may be forcing Netanyahu’s hand to delay waging a ground troops onslaught on Rafah and/or backing down from the expected invasion altogether. But Netanyahu doesn’t want to lose the extremists Smotrich/Ben Gvir axes lest his government is certain to fall. But at the same time, he is paying lip service to the army generals and the Americans.

After all, the Israeli army is daily striking the neighborhoods of Rafah, different parts of the south as well as different areas of the enclave in the center and the north of Gaza. They are going ahead with their genocide without necessarily having to wage another deadly war on Rafah.

Marwan Asmar is a writer based in Amman covering Middle East affairs.

21 March 2024

Source: countercurrents.org

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