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Rafah: Analysing the Implications of Israel’s Offensive and the Global Response

25th of February 2024

Israel’s destruction of Gaza has escalated, drawing global focus to the resulting humanitarian crisis and geopolitical tensions. With Israel intensifying its military operations, the impact on Gaza’s civilian population has been severe, pushing millions towards displacement, hardship and death. This report examines the strategic implications of Israel’s offensive on Rafah, which is populated by 1.4 million civilians, the international response, and the potential outcomes of the conflict, offering an insightful overview of the current situation.

 

As Israel intensified its military operations in Gaza, it advised approximately two million civilians to relocate to a designated “humanitarian zone” called Al-Mawasi, a small strip by the Mediterranean Sea, spanning only 8.5 square kilometers (3.3 square miles)—an area smaller than London’s Heathrow Airport. This zone, presented as safe by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has been the subject of evacuation instructions issued to the civilian population amidst the ongoing conflict. Starting from 18 October, the IDF utilised social media to direct Gaza residents to Al-Mawasi, emphasising it as a destination for international humanitarian aid if needed. Rafah, another declared safe zone, has over 1.4 million Palestinians of whom most have been displaced from further north. As Israel has occupied Gaza City and made their way down south to Khan Younis, it is now this final stronghold that is under threat of attack by Israel. [1]

 

The operation, feared to lead to unprecedented violence in an already devastating war with over 30,000 Palestinian casualties, aims to displace Palestinians into Egypt [2]. The underlying motive appears to be extending military presence in Gaza to suppress reconstruction and enable further destruction, as evident in the IDF’s controlled demolition of civilian infrastructure [3]. This will pressure Egypt to open its borders to the 2 million Palestinians as the conditions in Gaza will be unlivable since there will be little infrastructure to return to. This tactic also serves Netanyahu’s interest in delaying a ceasefire to sustain his political position amidst calls for his replacement [2]. 

 

 

Global reaction

 

World leaders, including those from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, and other nations, have escalated their calls for Israel to reconsider its planned ground offensive in Rafah, Gaza, warning of catastrophic humanitarian consequences. These leaders stress that the offensive would devastate the over 1.4 million displaced Palestinians currently taking refuge in Rafah, emphasising there’s nowhere else for civilians to flee. Amid Israel’s intensified air strikes and artillery fire, these countries urge an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and highlight the dire situation of both their own citizens and Palestinian families caught in the conflict. [4] 

 

International pressure mounts as Spain and Ireland call for a review of Israel’s compliance with human rights obligations, and global voices, including the Arab League and the United States, express frustration and concern over the potential for a humanitarian disaster. Despite this, Israel maintains its stance on the necessity of the Rafah operation to combat Hamas, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasising the goal of a complete victory and allowing civilians to evacuate battle zones. The United Nations warns of a high risk of atrocities should the offensive proceed, amidst a backdrop of significant Palestinian casualties and international outcry for restraint and a ceasefire. [4]

 

 

Egypt’s response

 

Satellite images have revealed extensive construction along Egypt’s border with Gaza, indicating preparations for a potential influx of Palestinian refugees amid Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza [5]. The construction includes a seven-meter-high wall within an isolated buffer zone in Egypt’s North Sinai province, aimed at housing refugees should Israel proceed with its planned offensive in Rafah. The imagery, dated 15 February, shows cleared land and construction 

vehicles near the Rafah crossing, hinting at Egypt’s measures in anticipation of the offensive. While Egypt did previously threaten to reverse peace with Israel if the operation in Rafah is carried out, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has confirmed that the 1978 Camp David peace deal is safe [6, 7]. Despite Egypt’s security concerns over a mass Palestinian displacement into the Sinai, it seems that El-Sisi has decided that undoing peace with Israel is a greater risk. 

The ongoing conflict in Gaza, marked by Israel’s military escalation and the consequent displacement of millions of Palestinians, has precipitated a humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. The international outcry for restraint, coupled with Egypt’s covert preparations for refugee intake, underscores the profound challenges and dilemmas facing the region. As the world watches with bated breath, the hope for a peaceful resolution remains distant, with the potential for further escalation posing a significant threat to the lives of the Palestinians.

 

 

 

 

[1] Al-Mawasi: Gaza humanitarian zone not humane, evacuees say. (2023). BBC News. [online] 8 Dec. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67646964.

 

[2] Nashed, M. (2024). What’s behind Israel’s threat to attack Rafah? [online] Al Jazeera. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2024/2/16/whats-behind-israels-threat-to-attack-rafah.

 

[3] Abraham, L., Erden, B., Ibrahim, N., Shao, E. and Willis, H. (2024). Israel’s Controlled Demolitions Are Razing Neighborhoods in Gaza. The New York Times. [online] 1 Feb. Available at:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2024/02/01/world/middleeast/Israel-gaza-war-demolish.html.

 

[4] Al Jazeera. (2024). World leaders warn Israel against ‘catastrophic’ Rafah ground offensive. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/15/world-leaders-warn-israel-against-catastrophic-rafah-ground-offensive.

 

[5] Israel Gaza war: Satellite images show construction on Egypt’s border. (2024). BBC News. [online] 16 Feb. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-68317541.

[6] CNBC. (2024). Egypt threatens to suspend key peace treaty if Israel pushes into Rafah on its border, officials say. [online] Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2024/02/11/egypt-threatens-to-suspend-key-peace-treaty-if-israel-pushes-into-rafah-on-its-border-officials-say.html#:~:text=Egypt%20is%20threatening%20to%20suspend.

[7] Ari, L.B. and Agencies (2024). Egyptian foreign minister reaffirms commitment to peace treaty with Israel. Ynetnews. [online] 12 Feb. Available at: https://www.ynetnews.com/article/rkmrkavip.