March 15, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel Eyes Rafah Offensive, New Hostage Talks

March 15, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israel Eyes Rafah Offensive, New Hostage Talks

Latest Developments

Israel approved plans for a Rafah offensive on March 15 while signaling openness to renewed Gaza truce talks. After convening his war cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he had given a green light for a military operation in Rafah, the last bastion of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and that preparations were being made in parallel to evacuate civilians. The announcement followed a Reuters report that Hamas had submitted a ceasefire proposal under which it would free some of the 130 hostages whom it has been holding since its October 7 rampage in southern Israel. In return, Israel would release as many as 1,000 jailed Palestinian terrorists.

Expert Analysis

“Israel’s decision to stay away from the last round of hostage talks in Cairo appears to have borne fruit. It is Hamas that is now trying to rekindle the diplomacy. The threatened Rafah sweep, which would effectively end Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, may well be on the minds of the Palestinian terrorist group’s leaders — as well as the possible termination of their VIP lease in Doha.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

“Israel’s weeks-long avoidance in approving a Rafah campaign, U.S. public pressure opposing that campaign, and both countries’ signaling of desperation for a Ramadan ceasefire undermined Israeli leverage in hostage talks. Israel moving forward with a Rafah campaign alongside increased U.S. pressure on Qatar dramatically increases that leverage.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Hamas’s Proposal

Under Hamas’s truce proposal, the hostages slated to go free would be women, children, the elderly, and the infirm, Reuters reported. That would leave dozens of adult male hostages — including civilians and soldiers — behind for now. Among the terrorists Hamas wants in return are 100 serving life prison sentences for major attacks, Reuters reported.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office appeared to rebuff this proposal, saying, “Hamas is continuing to hold to unrealistic demands.” On March 14, Netanyahu disclosed progress in the hostage talks, which he credited to Qatar finally applying pressure on Hamas, which it hosts and bankrolls. “Qatar started telling them: ‘We will expel you. We will withhold money from you.’” Netanyahu said in a meeting with hostage families, describing Doha’s new tack as a result of Israeli-led lobbying in various international fora.

Mossad, CIA Chiefs Meet About Stalled Hostage Talks,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Demands Clarity from Hamas on Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief

Hostage Talks Continue in Qatar as Israel Prepares to Fight in Rafah,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Firm on Gaza Truce Terms,” FDD Flash Brief


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