March 19, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israeli, U.S. Officials to Meet in Washington to Discuss Rafah Operation

March 19, 2024 | Flash Brief

Israeli, U.S. Officials to Meet in Washington to Discuss Rafah Operation

Latest Developments

The White House said on March 18 that Israel is sending an interagency team to Washington to hear alternative U.S. ideas to supplant a major military operation in Rafah. President Joe Biden requested the team during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after expressing his opposition to a major military campaign in the southern Gazan city. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters during a White House briefing that Biden believes that “a major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza, and further isolate Israel internationally.”

Sullivan said that the United States maintains that Hamas should not have a safe haven anywhere in the Gaza Strip but called claims that a major operation in Rafah is necessary to defeat Hamas a “straw man” argument. “The key goals Israel wants to achieve in Rafah can be done by other means,” Sullivan said. Biden requested that Netanyahu send “a senior interagency team composed of military, intelligence, and humanitarian officials to Washington in the coming days” to hear the White House’s concerns and “an alternative approach that would target key Hamas elements in Rafah and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a major ground invasion.”

Expert Analysis

“Israel and the United States both agree that Hamas must be defeated, but the devil is in the details. Netanyahu and other leaders in his war cabinet believe that the only way to defeat Hamas is by destroying their remaining battalions and infrastructure in Rafah, but the Biden administration seems to believe there is another way. All of this will be on the table for the allies to discuss in Washington. The job of each side in these discussions will be to walk away with a plan for Rafah that both Biden and Netanyahu can sell to their respective electorates.” Enia Krivine, Senior Director of FDD’s Israel Program and National Security Network

“It is highly improbable that Israel will be able to eliminate Hamas in Rafah using only targeted operations. A ground invasion in Rafah is necessary to eradicate what remains of Hamas and seal the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza. Israel has proven its capability to carry out the task, although it will undoubtedly be a challenging mission considering the substantial number of civilians seeking refuge in the city. If the United States and Israel can agree on a solution that will satisfy both countries, the Jewish state can ultimately achieve success.” Joe Truzman, Senior Research Analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal

Hamas’s Last Stronghold

Rafah, abutting the border with Egypt, is the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip, with four intact terrorist battalions. But Israeli plans to move in ground forces have encountered fierce Western and Arab resistance. Critics cited a need to first relocate hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have sheltered there since being displaced by earlier fighting in the north.

On March 17, Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting that Israel would go ahead with its plan to push into Rafah. Israel has conducted limited airstrikes and ground operations in the city so far, including a complex special forces operation that freed two hostages and an airstrike that killed senior Hamas terrorist Muhammad Abu Hasna.

Israel Eyes Rafah Offensive, New Hostage Talks,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Kills Senior Hamas Terrorist in Rafah,” FDD Flash Brief

Israel Rescues Two Hostages From Gaza,” FDD Flash Brief


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