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Towards an Israeli operation in Rafah

After two weeks in which there was only one Israeli brigade in the Gaza Strip, and there were no large battles, while attention was shifted to the Iranian arena, it was possible to suspect that the IDF had gone on Passover vacation in the southern front. However, the signs are increasing that this is a false suspicion – and that there is a great likelihood that the IDF will continue its powerful ground operation in the Gaza strip soon, with an emphasis on Rafah – the largest and last Hamas Center in the Gaza Strip, where 4 Hamas battalions remain untreated.

The main and direct reason for the action at this time would be to exert pressure on Hamas – which has recently hampered the negotiations for the return of the hostages (134 hostages remained in Gaza – of them dozens with a sign of life; Yesterday, for example, a video of Hirsch Goldberg-Polin, who was abducted to the Gaza Strip with a severed hand amputation and a serious fear for his life, showed that Hirsch had overcome the injury and was still alive.) At the same time, according to media reports, Israel wants to go from mediation through Qatar to mediation through Egypt, considering Qatar’s problematic behaviour in relation to Hamas over the past six months. Yesterday, Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar visited Cairo and discussed with senior Egyptian General Staff officials the questions of negotiations and Israeli plans for action in Rafah. Egypt issued a statement expressing a principled objection to this action, but a more moderate tone could have been identified, rather than in the statements on this issue that were published a few months ago.

On Thursday, the political-security cabinet is expected to convene, with the question of activity in Rafah at the top of the agenda, and the plans for the IDF action will be presented. A sign of progress and approval by the Cabinet will be a call to evacuate population from Rafah, indicating the IDF’s maneuvering combat plan. According to other reports, the Nahal Brigade, which has so far been stationed in the Netzarim corridor, which separates the northern and southern Gaza Strip, left Gaza and was replaced by two reserve brigades – 2 (Carmeli) and 679 (Yiftach). The full range of circumstances may indicate that the Rafah maneuver, which has been discussed for months, is indeed at our doorstep.

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