Above photo: Tents as far as the eye can see in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, January 9, 2024. Mohammed Zaanoun.
Egyptian officials warned their Israeli counterparts that any Israeli ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah “would effectively suspend” the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on 11 February.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that an Israeli ground operation in Rafah, located on Egypt’s border and where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are living in tents, was necessary to destroy the four brigades of Hamas’ armed wing allegedly present there.
“There is limited space and great risk in putting Rafah under further military escalation due to the growing number of Palestinians there,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday during a press briefing, warning that an escalation would have “dire consequences.”
Aid agencies have warned of a “blood bath” worse than that already taking place in Gaza should Israel move ahead with such an operation.
In response to such warnings, Netanyahu told ABC News, “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war, keep Hamas there.”
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield also cautioned against a Rafah invasion. She stated on Saturday night that “we have been absolutely clear that under the current circumstances in Rafah, a military operation now in that area cannot proceed.”
Despite publicly admonishing Netanyahu, US officials have not taken steps during the current war to prevent Israel from killing huge numbers of Palestinian civilians.
According to the WSJ, a ground invasion would force Egyptian President Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi “to decide between keeping Egypt’s border closed with elevated civilian casualties or allowing throngs of people into his country, thereby opening the door to a mass displacement of Palestinians.”
According to an Israel Ministry of Intelligence plan leaked shortly after the start of the 7 October war, Israel wishes to create a scenario in which the forced displacement of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants, otherwise known as “ethnic cleansing,” to Egypt or other third countries will appear as a necessary humanitarian measure to save lives.
In recent days, Egypt redeployed dozens of M60A3 Patton main battle tanks and YPR-765 infantry fighting vehicles near the Rafah border crossing, Egyptian officials said.
A government delegation from Cairo visited Tel Aviv on Friday for talks with Israeli officials about the situation in Rafah, Egyptian officials told the WSJ. Israeli officials are trying to get Egypt to agree to the ground invasion, but Egyptian officials are resisting, they said.
In late October, Egypt started to deploy more tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to the Rafah border crossing to prepare for a potential refugee crisis.
Israeli airstrikes killed 28 Palestinians, including ten children, in Rafah early on Saturday after the Israeli military intensified air raids ahead of the coming ground invasion.
Though Israel has turned its focus to Rafah, fighting between the Israeli army and fighters from Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, continued across Gaza on Saturday, including in Khan Yunis as well as north and central Gaza.