Rafah Operation Gets Washington’s Okay If No Counterstrikes on Iran: Report

Although some Israeli action against Iran’s unprecedented  attack seems a foregone conclusion, ahead of the Passover holiday considerable ambiguity prevails.

President Biden on March 8, 2024, at Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and Prime Minister Netanyahu at Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. AP

American officials have decided to give sanction to an Israeli operation against Hamas at Rafah in the Gaza Strip in exchange for an agreement by Prime Minister Netanyahu to hold off on retaliatory strikes against Iran, a new report from a Qatari newspaper says.

According to that report in the the New Arab, an Egyptian official said that Mr. Netanyahu “managed to obtain American approval for a military operation in Rafah, in exchange for [Israel] refraining from carrying out a large-scale military operation against Iran in response to its recent attack.”

That source added that the “discourse of an Israeli response to Iran contradicts  the desires of the American administration, and is not realistic, given the Israeli claims that the United States played the major role in repelling the Iranian attack and preventing its success.”

The alleged agreement, though, could be more on the order of a mirage. For one thing, no Israeli official had confirmed it. Also, other reports indicate that there will be no Israeli strike on Iran until after the Jewish holiday of Passover next week— a hint that a direct counterstrike against Iran of some kind is less a matter of if than when. 

An ABC News report on Thursday morning cited Israeli sources who said that Israel already planned but then put off two retaliatory moves since Tehran’s weekend attack that saw more than 300 Iranian drones and missiles fired toward Israel. That report cited an unnamed American official who said that any Israeli strike would not be expected until after Passover — a long holiday that this year begins on April 22 and concludes on April 30. 

As for the Qatari report, the rationale for the supposed deal on Rafah is to tamp down the risk of escalation that would presumably come with a hard Israeli hit against Iranian targets inside Iran as opposed to against its proxies like Hezbollah, which operates in Lebanon and Syria. 

The Egyptian source quoted said that the the IDF carried out airstrikes in the early hours of Thursday “on several areas adjacent to the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt,” and that “the relevant officials in Egypt were notified before the execution of some of these strikes, which came [near] the Philadelphi Corridor at a space adjacent to the border with Egypt.”

Rafah remains a significant place name in the volatile Gaza Strip. According to the Times of Israel, four Hamas battalions are still stationed there, along with more than a million civilians who have taken refuge there after fleeing fighting in other parts of the Strip. 

The city is also believed to be where Hamas leaders are hiding, perhaps along with Israeli hostages. Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly said he has approved plans for an operation in Rafah and more recently said that a date for the launch has been decided, but has so far been held back by international allies and particularly by the Biden administration.

The European Union is also chiming in. Speaking at a G7 meeting at Capri, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, seemingly took a page out of President Biden’s “don’t” diplomacy playbook: “Don’t attack Rafah, it would be a catastrophe,” Mr. Borrell said on Wednesday.  

“We must support Israel (and we have demonstrated that we do so not only in words, given that during the Iranian attack the missiles and drones were shot down thanks to the military capabilities of America, France, and Great Britain),” he added, “but we must keep in mind that we must resolve the Israeli-Palestinian problem while also taking into account the rights of the Palestinians.”

While the G7 leaders meeting in Italy are likely to call for Israeli restraint, the Italian foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, told the AP that Italy supports targeted new sanctions against Tehran, specifically against the makers of drones used in the weekend attack and others launched by Tehran-backed terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza and by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The New York Sun

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