Bad News for Biden, as Top Israeli Official Proclaims the Hamas War Unlikely To End Before November Election

Yet, a deadly event Sunday ‘underscores’ Israel’s need to heed America’s advice on conducting the war, Secretary Blinken says during a visit to Moldova, where he’s urging Israel to develop plans for post-war Gaza.

AP/Tsafrir Abayov
Israeli soldiers work on a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, May 29, 2024. AP/Tsafrir Abayov

Even as President Biden is urging Israel to start planning for the day its war with Hamas ends, a top aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu is making clear that military activity in Gaza is unlikely to end prior to America’s November election. 

“Fighting in Gaza will continue for at least another seven months,” the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Reshet Bet radio Wednesday, adding, “We won’t fight with a stopwatch over our head.”

Yet, a deadly event Sunday “underscores” Israel’s need to heed America’s advice on conducting the war, Secretary Blinken said Wednesday during a visit to Moldova, where he urged Israel to develop plans for post-war Gaza.

Yet, Israel has so far not crossed Washington’s “red lines” at Rafah, the spokesman for America’s National Security Council, John Kirby, told reporters Tuesday in a chaotic press conference that underscored the administration’s confusing messaging on Gaza. 

Marking a major achievement Wednesday, the Israel Defense Force announced it has gained “tactical control” of the Philadelphi Corridor. At Rafah’s southern edge, that nine-mile corridor on Gaza’s border with Egypt has served as a Hamas lifeline, the point where arms, vehicles, and other supplies were smuggled in from Egypt. The IDF has already destroyed more than 20 tunnels there.      

It would take a month or so to gain full control of Rafah, and two more months to clear it of the remnants of Hamas, a former Israeli NSC chief, Yaakov Amidror, told the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security in a briefing Tuesday. 

Israel also needs to operate in a Hamas stronghold in central Gaza, General Amidror said, referring to the Jabalia camp. The IDF mostly avoided entering Jabalia earlier in the war for fear of too many civilian casualties. Now it has convinced most non-combatants to evacuate, proving that “civilians take Israel’s promise to ensure safety in the humanitarian zones seriously,” he said.   

For months, America insisted that Israel had no credible plans to remove more than a million civilians from Rafah’s battlefield. Yet, in two weeks most Rafah non-combatants were evacuated to a tent city complete with aid and field hospitals that Israel has built in the nearby Mawasi area. 

Washington now says Israel has heeded its warnings on civilians, but it remains opposed to a “major” operation at the heart of Rafah. That opposition could be tested soon at the United Nations, where the Arab member of the Security Council, Algeria, is circulating a “short, decisive text, aimed at stopping the killing in Rafah,” the country’s UN ambassador, Amar Bendjama, told reporters Tuesday. 

Since October 7, America has vetoed three proposed Security Council resolutions designed to force Israel to cease military activity in Gaza. The resolutions the council did enact stopped short of demanding an end to war. The current proposal calls on Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in Rafah.”

“We don’t want to see a major ground operation” at Rafah, Mr. Kirby told reporters Tuesday, adding however that “everything that we can see tells us that they are not moving in in a major ground operation in population centers in the city of Rafah.”

Pressured by White House reporters to declare Israel in violation of Mr. Biden’s “red line” at Rafah, Mr. Kirby at one point said, “This is not Tel Aviv,” and directed reporters to instead question Israel Defense Force spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, on war strategy. 

Other top officials are sharply criticizing Israel. “The word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe” Sunday’s deaths of nearly 200 people at Rafah, Vice President Harris said. That incident, described by Mr. Netanyahu as a “tragic mistake,” followed an IDF targeted killing of two Hamas commanders. 

It was “horrific,” Mr. Blinken said Wednesday. “We have been very clear with Israel on the imperative in this instance and in other instances to immediately investigate and determine exactly what happened and why it happened,” he added. “If accountability is necessary, make sure there is accountability.”

The IDF “munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” Admiral Hagari said Tuesday. One possibility, he added, was that Hamas’s weapons were “stored in a compound next to our target, which we did not know of,” and they sparked the fire that caused the deaths. He vowed a further “quick, comprehensive, and transparent” investigation. 

Such incidents show that Israel needs to chart a “real plan” for the day after the war, Mr. Blinken said. Yet, as Mr. Hanegbi noted, Israel has spoken from the beginning of the need for a year-long war to defeat Hamas. A lengthy war may clash with America’s political calendar, but ending it prematurely could pose a long-term threat to Israel.


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