Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

What are we to make of Israel’s rolling incursion into Rafah? Oy.

This is a segment from The “Calamities, Past and Not” Edition.


Now it’s time for our first discussion.

So Allison, on to Rafah. – Yeah, last week, under cover of Air Force bombings and artillery barrages on Eastern neighborhoods in the Gaza City of Rafah, Rafiach in Hebrew.

I find that very confusing when I’m interviewing people from abroad, I have to say Rafah, and when I talk about people here, I say Rafiach.

Israeli tank units took control over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

A video making the rounds shot point of view from the turret shows a tank advancing on and then rolling over and crushing a site sculpture reading “I heart Gaza.”

Very good visuals there.

Other videos show Israeli flags waving over the border crossing compound.

Seizing the border crossing may or may not be the first step in a much broader incursion into Rafah, the only city left in Gaza that Israeli forces have not conquered.

Rafah was, until the war, a small city of 240,000 residents.

It’s about the size of Derby in the UK or Boise in the US, Hobart in Australia, and not an especially important place.

Since the war, its population has grown sixfold as residents of Gaza City, Khan Younis, and many other smaller towns that fell under Israeli control according to IDF orders, fled south, eventually taking refuge in Rafah.

Some staying with relatives, others living in improvised tent camps at the outskirts of the city, and some living in makeshift shelters in that city.

At the start of last week, three of every four Gazans was in Rafah.

This week, the IDF issued new orders for Gaza civilians to make their way northwest to what the Israeli army has designated as humanitarian areas in al-Mawassi and Deir al-Balakh on the sea.

Reports vary a great deal, but a good guess is that half a million people have followed these orders, again, uprooting themselves, and again, moving to areas that are not set up to handle the huge influx.

Just why Israel has moved on Rafah now is something that has been explained only in generalities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that conquering Rafah and destroying Hamas strongholds there are necessary to win the war against Hamas.

Victory over Hamas, he said, quote, “Is not when every last Hamas fighter disappears, “but when we vanquish them, “destroy their organized battalions, “and mop up the remaining places, “and that’s going to take some time, but we can do it.”

Hamas’s last four working battalions, Netanyahu said, are in Rafah, and they must be dismantled.

Likely, a good deal of the leadership of Hamas, maybe including Ihya Sinwar himself, are in Rafah.

What’s more, according to Netanyahu, is that, quote, “No one’s going to come in and oversee the rebuilding “of Gaza until they know that you either destroyed Hamas “or you’re about to destroy Hamas, “and that’s a certainty.”

Therefore, according to Netanyahu, the war cannot end without the IDF taking control of the city.

Alongside this, sources in the government say that only a credible threat that Israel will attack Rafah can pressure Hamas into making a deal to release hostages after months of negotiations have failed to lead to a deal.

That, too, is a reason why Israel has started to move on Rafah.

Against these possible benefits of conquering Rafah, there are awful likely costs.

Over the past weeks, the number of Palestinian civilians killed and hurt each day and week has dropped a great deal, but a battle for Rafah will surely leave hundreds, maybe thousands more dead and injured.

After that, the sorts of human misery that Rafah has at least partially escaped until now, hunger and sickness, will likely be visited on the city.

An Israeli incursion will also lead to the deaths and maiming of dozens of IDF soldiers.

Some worry that an Israeli attack will lead to the deaths of the hostages who are still alive, either in the battles over the city or because Hamas leaders, feeling that their time is short, will murder the hostages.

An Israeli attack will also cause Israel to be further ostracized by other countries and international groups, including our most important allies.


President Joe Biden said last week of Israel, quote, “If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons,” suggesting that fighting to control Rafah comes at the cost of a partial American arms embargo.

Angry that Israel took over the border crossing, Egypt announced plans to join South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel in the International Court of Justice and said that they would stop sending aid to Gaza via the crossing.

The pressure that Netanyahu may feel does not all come from outside the country.

A recent poll found that almost half of Israelis support ending the war now in return for the hostages, and fewer than a third oppose that.

Last week, 600 parents of soldiers fighting in Gaza sent a letter to the security cabinet saying that they will no longer, quote, “Let our children endanger their lives “by going into Rafah.”

These things have got to be some sort of warning sign for Benjamin Netanyahu, although he is a politician famous for ignoring warning signs.

So, Noah, explain to us, what do we make of the IDF’s recent moves on Rafah? – Oh, Allison, I don’t know, I don’t know.

I don’t know how somebody could know, not somebody like me.

It’s all like a matter of facts that we don’t know and predictions that someone like me doesn’t have the ability or the information or the wisdom to make.

So, we’re going in because if we go in, then according to Netanyahu and some of his supporters, if we go in now, then we’ll be able to finally deal to Hamas that death blow that we’ve been threatening to do all along and maybe capture some of their leadership, maybe kill some of their leadership, break down those last four battalions, and then Hamas will no longer continue to exist as an army.

That sounds to me to be like a fantasy, but I have no idea.

And then there are people who are saying, if we go in now, then it will create the pressure to finally come up with a deal that lets the hostages get out, like you said in your introduction, Allison.

But then there are people who are saying exactly the opposite, that this is gonna lead to the deaths of dozens or maybe more of the hostages and it will lead them to not getting out because a deal will become impossible in the face of this.

And I don’t know how you know which of those things is true.

I do know if it was, if my boy was still, was one of those soldiers waiting on the outskirts of town to go in and to start fighting, moving from street to street and fighting, those soldiers who already over the last couple of days, every day, one or two of them have been killed.

And we, every morning, once again, we have the morning start with announcements of, it has, we have been allowed to announce that, sadly today, another two people died.

If I was, if my boy was still there, instead of back in California, where he was when the war started, then I know I would be against this.

And what does that mean?

I can’t make any sense of it.

I don’t know how, I just don’t, Allison. – Are you throwing the question back at me?

I’m supposed to give you answers?

No, I asked you the question. – Well, what do you think of it? – I think that we don’t know.

And a real big reason that we don’t know is because our prime minister has no credibility because of his history of just doing anything, saying anything in order to preserve his own political survival, legal survival future.

When he said, at the beginning of the war, we need total victory.

I mean, that’s ringing hollow, right?

This whole like total victory business. – I don’t even know what that could have ever meant.

And I certainly know it’s impossible now. – Right, well, anyone who believed him at the beginning is now saying, this is ridiculous, total victory.

Over the course of the war, he’s been unable to articulate what his end game is, what the plan is, what we do with Gaza once, let’s say we have this total victory.

He doesn’t even know what he wants to do with it.

So it’s very hard to judge and to say, oh yes, we should do this or we should do that when we just don’t understand whether we’re getting actual information or actual direction from the person who’s supposed to be leading the charge.

So I don’t think we can expect of ourselves to know what should be done or what must be done.

I think that what’s really powerful is the idea that the hostages don’t have time.

We always have time to do more or less militarily there, and we don’t have time.

The more and more hostages are dying, but that was true months ago, right?

If that argument held any credibility with Netanyahu or the war cabinet, they would have negotiated much more seriously.

And I also think that that ruins our ability to believe what our government is telling us because we don’t feel like there’s been a real, sincere, wholehearted, full-throated effort to put the hostage situation first and put other things behind us.

And there’s basically been a policy without articulating a policy of saying that they’re willing to sacrifice these hostages in the name of a military victory.

And they’re not saying those words out loud, but that’s basically what’s happening, which is why the hostage families are so frustrated.

My other thing is that when you talk about security writ small and writ large, do these things that Biden is saying, are we really helping our security situation by doing this and risking our relationship with the United States?

That’s a huge security threat. – And even more so in my eyes with Egypt, which I think that in the long run, the relationship with the United States is going to probably survive whatever happens.

But I don’t know if I feel that necessarily about this relationship with Egypt, which just this morning, as we record very nicely, the foreign minister of Egypt said that they are not considering abrogating the peace agreement that was reached in the early 1980s with Israel, – No, that’s good to hear. – but that they are considering all sorts of things because they have come to the conclusion that Israel does not understand warnings.

Israel only understands sanctions and actions.

And so they’re now viewing it.

And that coming from Egypt, which at this moment is our most important ally or the most important other country, save for the United States, I think, or maybe Germany, I think that that’s chilling. – That’s why Rafah has always been different from the other cities because of the relationship with Egypt. – Because there’s a Rafah, Egypt as well, right across the border, a half a kilometer away.

And they view this as very much their business. – And that’s why Biden is also taking it extremely seriously.

And we can’t forget about what’s going on in the North.

And we can’t forget about the wider issue with Iran.

Remember, they attacked us.

We can’t afford to risk American support right now.

And yet we’ve got a prime minister who’s saying, “We’ll fight with our fingernails if we need to.”

I mean, it’s ridiculous.

It’s ridiculous.

He is such a bullshitter.

I can’t even stand it. – It’s true.

And in the very, very extensive inventory of hells that we are living through and hells that we have unleashed over these past months, what you were talking about, about our lack of ability to believe our own government, in particular, our own prime minister, is one of them for sure.

But what he, Prime Minister Netanyahu, means, which could be true, I think, is that in order to keep Iran from very much exercising its will right on our borders, we need to destroy Hamas, which is a vassal terrorist organization of Iran.

And in order to do that, we need to go into Rafah.

That’s what the prime minister is saying.

And that does not sound necessarily untrue to me.

I have no idea.

And it’s impossible.

I mean, I know what my intuition is.

I know what my feeling is, which is, no, no, no, this war should be over.

This war, we should just stop this war now.

But I don’t know enough to know that I’m not entirely wrong about that.

And not knowing when there are so many lives at stake and so many other things that don’t immediately translate into human lives, like our position in the world, it’s awful. – Yeah, yeah, it kind of sucks.

It kind of sucks, but I hate to hammer on it.

I mean, it sounds so, to use an interesting adjective, it sounds so haaretzi to be pinning so much blame on Netanyahu.

But he said, this morning I heard on the news, right?

He said that the demonstrations against him are a tiny fringe of Israeli opinion that are questioning the war and doesn’t reflect the true sentiments of the Israeli people that they’re questioning whether going ahead and prosecuting this war is correct.

And it’s just a lie.

You look at these polls that we’re looking at, he’s lying.

So how can you believe anything out of the mouth of someone who’s consistently lying and lying?

And so how can you feel like you’re getting proper information with which to actually make your decision as to whether or not defying the world community and Biden doing a full throttle into Rafah is right.

And remember, I don’t think Biden has said, don’t touch hands off of Rafah completely, but the warning is like a full invasion of it as opposed to having different missions going in and going in and out.

I don’t know.

And there was a point even where the United States was saying like, go ahead and do it.

Just make sure you’re gonna get the people out first and have a humanitarian plan to not kill too many civilians.

I don’t know.

I’m gonna throw it back at you.

What should we do?

We should listen to this song.

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