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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

For over three months, the Israeli threat of invading Rafah loomed, with one foot in motion and the other hesitatingly delayed. This reluctance to proceed stems not from a lack of desire to invade, but rather from profound hesitation, muddled calculations, genuine apprehension of failure, and the weight of pressure from the United States and other allies, cautioning against significant repercussions and a grim aftermath.

Why the Insistence on Attacking?

As the war on Gaza Strip (GS) reaches its “borrowed time,” having exhausted its justifications and feasibility, and having failed to achieve its objectives of crushing Hamas, freeing Israeli captives, and providing security for Israel, there is now a direction to invade Rafah as a solution for achieving these objectives and breaking the impasse. This move aims to buy more time to convince the Israeli public of the viability of continuing the war. Additionally, it provides Netanyahu with an opportunity to bolster his position, extend his premiership, and evade him and his party a disastrous failure in the upcoming elections, and the possibility of imprisonment and the end of his political career.

For Netanyahu, his coalition and a significant portion of Israeli society, halting the conflict prior to attempting to penetrate Rafah and before achieving minimal objectives (such as releasing the captives and securing the GS envelope) would constitute a severe setback/ catastrophe for Israel. It would signify a victory for Hamas and signal the erosion of the Zionist project’s stronghold in occupied Palestine, its deterrence capabilities and its dominant presence in the region. Additionally, it would result in heightened solidarity among Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and international communities in support of the resistance and the Palestine issue. Thus, an assault on Rafah remains the most imminent course of action for Israel.

Eight Reasons for Failure:

However, Israel acknowledges the significant likelihood of failure. Despite the relentless onslaughts of invasion and devastation in northern and central GS, they have yielded little success. Even after more than 200 days of warfare, the capabilities of resistance have been marginally diminished, remaining robust, impactful and proficient in causing substantial daily casualties to the occupying forces. Swiftly, the resistance and its affiliates reclaim authority over the territory, promptly filling any void left by Israeli retreats. The resistance continues to govern the lives of the people, who adamantly reject any alternative authority.

Second, the tunnel network remains highly effective throughout GS, encompassing the Rafah region. When the Israeli forces target Rafah, they will not encounter a conventional army employing traditional tactics. Instead, they will confront a violent resistance characterized by high dynamics, that cannot be besieged and eradicated. This resistance will adeptly utilize the tunnels, shifting seamlessly to central and northern areas. Moreover, it will facilitate the transfer of Israeli captives, as it has done before. Consequently, aspirations to eradicate Hamas and suppress resistance amount to futile endeavors, representing a waste of time and merely postponing the acknowledgment of failure.

Third, after enduring over 200 days of conflict, the Israeli military finds itself in a state of exhaustion and attrition, suffering unprecedented material and human losses, forcing the government to reassess conscription laws to bolster recruitment. Moreover, there is a pervasive sense of frustration, dwindling morale and a diminishing “will to fight.” There is a growing realization that any forthcoming campaign in Rafah will yield no more success than previous endeavors. Anticipated “achievements” will merely translate to further casualties among civilians, the destruction of vital infrastructure like schools and hospitals, and ultimately, a retreat marked by disgrace and shame.

Fourth, the Israeli aggression encounters the dilemma of about 1.4 million Palestinians concentrated in the Rafah area, posing significant challenges to executing any effective military operation amidst such densely populated surroundings. This predicament could result in a high toll of civilian casualties and injuries, escalating international outrage and disapproval toward Israel and exacerbating its isolation.

Fifth, the objections of Israel’s Western allies against the incursion into Rafah, including the US, stem from their conviction that it will do more harm than good, deeming it essentially futile with minimal prospects of success. Despite the US tentative backing of the Rafah offensive under specific conditions, Netanyahu and his administration perceive US constraints as diminishing the operation’s likelihood of success, hence advocating for comprehensive US support.

Sixth, Egypt remains steadfast in its opposition to the invasion of Rafah and adamantly refuses to sanction the displacement of Gazans to Sinai. The Israeli side continues its efforts to devise a solution acceptable to the Egyptian government or at least elicit its tacit approval, but as of now, this objective remains unfulfilled, according to the available information.

Seventh, despite the brutality of the Israeli aggression, it can no longer employ the same level of severity it once did. This limitation follows the exposure of its crimes, the resulting international condemnation and isolation, and its prosecution in the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, evidence shows that these brutal massacres have backfired, actually bolstering popular support for the resistance.

Eighth, although Israel needs “time” to execute its offensive and fully cover the entire GS in its aggression, the temporal element does not necessarily work to its advantage. The Israeli domestic landscape is growing weary of the prolonged conflict, with significant economic losses, tourism disruptions and security compromises. The prospect of a positive outcome from continuing the war is increasingly bleak within Israel. Additionally, the Israel’s prospects for resuming normalization with the Arab world are dwindling, its international image is deteriorating and getting more barbaric, and internal and external pressures to end the war are mounting. Consequently, the incursion into Rafah is fraught with apprehensions of becoming further entrenched in the quagmire, increased losses, adverse outcomes and a disproportionate cost-benefit ratio.

In conclusion, the Israeli assault on Rafah, despite appearing as a compelled course of action, is destined for failure and adverse consequences.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 27/4/2024

The opinions expressed in all the publications and studies are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of al-Zaytouna Centre.

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