Netanyahu vs the IDF: The invasion of Rafah stirs conflict in Israel- analysis

The heated rhetoric on both sides of the border with Lebanon does not yet foreshadow the beginning of a broad campaign, but instead Israel’s approach to the decisive moment.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reads the situation in Israel carefully and understands that with the imminent end of the battle in Rafah, Israel will be required to make a decision on how to change the reality in the north.

A visit to Rafah this week illustrated to me that the defeat of the Hamas brigade in the city is only a few weeks away.

Unlike in other places in the Gaza Strip, the IDF encountered stubborn and organized resistance from Hamas in Rafah.

These are not just individuals and squads but military systems that conduct an orderly, delaying battle against the IDF. The end will be decisive, but it will last a few more weeks.

IDF soldiers operate in Rafah, Gaza Strip, June 17, 2024. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Before entering Rafah I expressed doubt about the necessity of conquering the city, but after seeing what was revealed, that doubt has been removed.

Rafah is a very significant component of Hamas’s force. It has a more extensive and developed tunnel system than we have seen anywhere else in Gaza.

It differs from the tunnels uncovered in other parts of the Strip in that they are all connected: smuggling tunnels to Egypt, combat tunnels, tunnels for senior officials to hide—everything is connected.

Along the Philadelphia axis, the border between Gaza and Egypt, a dug tunnel shaft was discovered every ten meters. These are not fanciful words but factual descriptions.

The entire border is studded with smuggling tunnels that are connected to rocket launch pits, command tunnels inside the city and attack tunnels towards Israel. Most of the tunnels have several levels, and they go down to a depth of 30 meters.

This allows Hamas to conduct a defensive battle that is mostly underground: they come out of shafts, attack the IDF, go back in and boobytrap the shafts, and then fall back to a line of shafts further back.

Conversely, this allows the IDF to destroy more tunnels, including terrorists, through each exposed shaft.

The IDF’s progress in the city is faster than expected. The absolute majority of the 1.4 million people who were here have left, which makes fighting possible while knowing that those who remain are terrorists.

Hamas members also left, and probably also hostages, to the humanitarian area in the Mawasi area on the seashore. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 defectors from among the ranks of Hamas all over the Strip. The IDF will soon be required to deal with this area as well.

Two of the Hamas battalions in the city are already close to surrender. There are two more that need to be defeated, and in the meantime, the forces of the 162nd Division are destroying the exposed tunnels and production sites.

From the moment Israel completed the encirclement of the Gaza Strip from all sides and dismantled Hamas’ weapons production capabilities, the organization’s ability to replenish its ammunition stock was cut off.

The civilians

Israel’s first dilemma after the occupation of the city is completed will be whether to maintain continuous control of the Philadelphi corridor.

Now, when it is clear how much this corridor is Hamas’s windpipe, and in the absence of another authority to transfer control to it – it is difficult to see Israel withdrawing from here. Moreover, Israel’s control in the area of ​​smuggling from Egypt, which in itself is a significant source of income for Hamas, could increase the pressure and possibly promote a kidnapping deal.

But the bigger debate after Rafah will be in the North. The IDF is busy with the question of whether a settlement with Hezbollah, which would come after a long campaign, for all its costs, will be much better than the settlement that can possibly be achieved today. So far I have not heard a convincing answer.

Many senior officials in the IDF believe that the settlement that will come after a war that erodes Hezbollah’s capabilities will be better than the settlement reached today. Still, they do not know how to say whether the gain from such a settlement will justify the painful price that Israeli society will pay in such a war.

Everyone agrees that the arrangement, whether now or after a war, will soon be broken and the countdown to another war will begin.

That is why the IDF is looking for a middle way: a limited military move, which will focus on Hezbollah’s military capabilities, and will try to leave the campaign as an army against an army, which will leave the civilian rear of Israel and Lebanon out of the campaign.

To this, Nasrallah replied in his speech this week that any campaign would be comprehensive and would also harm the civilian home front.

Even if his words were words of arrogance, it is doubtful whether it is possible to make a limited move and leave it at that. Hezbollah does not have the precision that the Israeli Air Force has, and any massive fire from Lebanon will end up hitting targets it was not aimed at. That’s why every move to escalate the fighting has the potential to lead to a wider campaign.

Expect an Iranian response

Another question that worries Israel is whether Iran can be left out of the campaign in Lebanon after it crossed the border and attacked Israel from its territory in April.

The working assumption is that it is not possible and that any campaign in the north will inevitably also lead to an exchange of blows with Iran, which would distract a significant part of the Air Force’s power for long-range attacks.

All of these are strategic questions that will directly affect our lives and life expectancy in the coming months, but they mainly concern the IDF and the Defense Minister.

Netanyahu, who is being managed simultaneously from the balcony in Miami and the office of the National Security Minister, is currently busy with wars against other enemies.

The first enemy is the IDF and its commanders, whom the Prime Minister wants to subdue even before Rafah.

The second enemy after the IDF is the United States, our last remaining non-ideal ally, which the Prime Minister is trying to keep away at all costs.

In the process, he focuses on what will ensure victory: the appointment of local rabbis by the Religious Services Ministry and ensuring the evasion of tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox from service.

This week, the first buds of rebellion have sprouted in the Likud’s ranks —and with them, perhaps premature hope that this party wants to return to serving the people of Israel.

If they mature and grow, it may be possible to stop Netanyahu’s downward spiral toward total defeat.