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US would support limited, pinpoint IDF op against high-value targets in Rafah — report

US officials have relayed to their Israeli counterparts that the Biden administration would support a limited operation in Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, that would prioritize “high-value” Hamas targets in and underneath the city instead of a large-scale offensive, the Politico site reported Wednesday, citing four US officials.

The US has opposed an Israeli offensive in Rafah — believed to be Hamas’s last stronghold and home to its last four battalions — without a plan to protect over a million displaced Gazans who have found refuge in the city from fighting in the northern and central parts of the Palestinian enclave. Other countries have also warned Israel against an invasion of Rafah.

Two Israeli officials told Politico that the Israel Defense Forces is still developing a plan for protecting the civilians.

But unnamed US officials told Politico that in private meetings, top administration officials have told the Israelis that the US would back a strategy for “counterterrorism operations” in Rafah rather than the full-scale war waged elsewhere in Gaza.

All the officials spoke to Politico on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matters.

An Israeli official told the outlet that some kind of offensive or operation in Rafah is inevitable.

“At the end of the day, we cannot win this war without defeating Hamas’s battalions in Rafah,” the official said.

Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hinted that Israel will soon launch a ground operation in Rafah in southern Gaza.

“There is no safe place in Gaza for terrorists…Those who think that we are delaying [a Rafah operation] will soon see that we will reach everyone,” Gallant said while visiting troops in Gaza City. “We will bring to justice anyone who was involved on October 7 — either we will eliminate them or bring them to trial in Israel. There is no safe place, not here, not outside of Gaza, not anywhere across the Middle East — we will bring everyone to their place.”

A Defense Department official told Politico that the US has not picked up that an offensive on Rafah is imminent.

  • “They’d have to do some repositioning of forces, and that has not happened,” the official said. “It’s not imminent.”
  • “Israel is going to do what Israel decides to do. It’s kind of like trying to predict the weather,” the official added.

“But has the message sent been heard? Yes.”

Over the weekend US President Joe Biden said that a major Rafah operation would be a “red line” for his administration but did not detail the consequences if such a campaign went ahead.

On Tuesday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House, “The president didn’t make any declarations or pronouncements or announcements.

  • “Our position is that a military operation in Rafah that does not protect civilians, that cuts off the main arteries of humanitarian assistance and that places enormous pressure on the Israel-Egypt border is not something that he can support,” he said.

But he stressed that defeating Hamas is still a goal backed by Washington, which is dually concerned about “the protection of civilians and about Israel being able to sustain a campaign in a way that ultimately leads to an outcome in which the people of Israel are secure, Hamas is crushed, and there is a long-term solution to stability and peace in the region.”

  • The same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video address to AIPAC delegates gathered in Washington that to win the war Israel “must destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah.”
  • Israel will “finish the job in Rafah,” he said, “while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm’s way.”

Earlier this week, Politico cited US officials as saying that Biden would consider putting conditions on further US military aid to Israel if Rafah is attacked.

The war was triggered by the October 7 attack on Israel by Palestinian terror group Hamas which killed 1,200 people amid horrific atrocities. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip and into southern Israel also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Israel responded with a military campaign to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group, and free the hostages, 130 of whom remain in captivity.

  • The Biden administration has faced growing calls from his fellow Democrats to push Israel to ease the devastating humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by the fighting, with some saying they may try to stop congressionally approved military assistance if conditions for civilians do not improve.
  • Early in the war, US advisers arrived in Israel to offer their expertise in planning the ground operation in Gaza. Reports said the US experts had pushed Israel towards pinpoint commando operations as well as the use of the use smaller bombs as a strategy for reducing casualties among noncombatants.

Last week, the Washington Post reported the US has quietly approved over 100 arms sales to Israel that included small-diameter bombs.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that at least 31,184 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, and some 72,899 have been injured.

The terror group’s figures are unverified, however, and don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, of whom Israel has said it killed some 13,000 inside Gaza and an additional 1,000 inside Israel in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre.

Source: TOI