Israel’s Rafah Operation May Not Weaken Hamas | NEWSWEEK

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Israel’s Rafah Operation May Not Weaken Hamas | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by Brendan Cole Senior News Reporter for NEWSWEEK.

Palestinians are fleeing parts of Rafah ahead of an anticipated Israeli operation in the southern Gazan city that may weaken Hamas‘ brigades, but not necessarily its leadership, according to one regional expert.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has said 80,000 people left the area since Monday, following Israeli warnings to evacuate and there are reports of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shelling the city and tanks massing.

On Tuesday, the IDF moved in via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as Israel pursues its aim to wipe out Hamas seven months on from the militant group’s October 7 attack in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 were taken hostage.

Daniel Shadmy, spokesperson for the nongovernmental organization the European Leadership Network-Israel, told Newsweek it is widely accepted in the Israeli defense establishment that the operation in Rafah is needed for Israel’s security and to try to rescue hostages.

“It will indeed weaken Hamas’ remaining terrorist brigades,” he told Newsweek on Thursday. “However, strategically, this will not necessarily undermine Hamas’ leadership on the (Gaza) strip in the long run.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Hamas leaders have probably calculated that the organization can survive the operation and pursue its ceasefire demands without major concessions “because it continues to operate from and control other territory in the Gaza Strip outside of Rafah.”

Shadmy said Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar didn’t necessarily view a Rafah operation as negative as it is likely to increase pressure on Israel and weaken its position globally.

“Sinwar has also proven that he can still run Gaza and Hamas from the undergrounds while IDF tanks are overground,” Shadmy said.

“If the offensive or any strategic planning puts pressure on his leadership then we might see a breakthrough in the negotiations and potentially a release of hostages and end of hostilities,” he said. “Rafah is unfortunately part of a bigger chess game played by Hamas Israel and the mediators of the negotiations.”

Displaced people in Gaza have been arriving in the city of Al-Mawasi in Khan Younis. A map by the ISW illustrated Israel’s announced evacuation zones as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, which included an area around As Sureij and territory between Abasan al-Kabira and Al Bayuk.

When contacted for comment about these areas, the IDF referred Newsweek to a map it posted on X on May 6 showing how it had expanded a humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi to accommodate the increased levels of aid flowing into Gaza.

“An ongoing situation assessment will guide the gradual movement of civilians in the specified areas in eastern Rafah, to the humanitarian area,” the post said, adding that the IDF is “pursuing Hamas everywhere in Gaza until all the hostages that they’re holding in captivity are back home.”

The Israeli operation is fraught with humanitarian and diplomatic concerns over the consequences of what might happen to the more than one million civilians sheltering in Rafah.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he wouldn’t supply bombs to Israel that could be used to attack Rafah, and he acknowledged that U.S. bombs had killed Palestinians. This comment was condemned by Israel’s far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who posted on X using an emoji: “Hamas (Loves) Biden.”

Hamas said it was unwilling to make concessions to Israel regarding a ceasefire. Izzat El-Reshiq, from the group’s office in Qatar, insisted it would not go beyond a proposal it accepted on Monday, which would also include a prisoner swap.

“Israel isn’t serious about reaching an agreement,” Reshiq said on Wednesday, according to Reuters. “It is using the negotiation as a cover to invade Rafah and occupy the crossing.”

No ‘Shock and Awe’

Former Israeli Intelligence official Avi Melamed said that the capture of the Rafah crossing had sent a message Israel’s leadership would not countenance a reversion to the situation prior to October 7.

“It’s clear from the IDF’s operation Monday night that Israel’s operational plans for Rafah are going to be slower and more deliberate, rather than the ‘shock and awe’ approach it took to some of the other battles earlier in the war,” Melamed told Newsweek.

“Israel will likely continue its Rafah operations in slow and precision operations that will enable it to continue its momentum and maximum military pressure while leaving Hamas opportunities to soften its negotiation stance with regards to a hostage negotiation and ceasefire deal,” he added.

He said this way, Israel can avoid a direct collision course with the Biden administration’s position, while tactical maneuvering space remains for Israel and the U.S. to continue the war and achieve the stated goals of eliminating Hamas.

Israel’s Rafah Operation May Not Weaken Hamas | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by Brendan Cole Senior News Reporter for NEWSWEEK.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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