X Close

Netanyahu’s Rafah invasion is dividing Israel

Large protests took place across Israel last weekend. Credit: Getty

May 9, 2024 - 7:00am

With the incursion of Israeli tanks into Rafah and the sealing off of the crossing with Egypt, the war in Gaza has jolted out of the relative stasis of recent weeks.

This has in turn given new urgency to the Israeli protests calling for a halt to the war and the removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Many Israelis see the attack on Rafah as evidence that the government has given up on attempts to free the remaining hostages and has accepted their deaths as a price worth paying for continuing the offensive and prolonging Netanyahu’s time in office.

The latest protests last weekend were notably less restrained than usual, with an increase in the number of arrests — including detentions of some family members of the hostages — and heavy-handed police tactics, with mounted officers clearing demonstrators from the Ayalon Highway that runs through Tel Aviv.

The lack of a hostages’ deal and the attack on Rafah has furthered the trend since 7 October of centrist Israelis losing faith in the Likud government, and has exacerbated opposition to Bibi beyond the parts of society which have traditionally opposed his administration.

Last Saturday, when it looked as though a deal on the hostages was imminent — and in fact the following day Hamas announced that it was willing to accept the deal, only for it to be rejected by Israel — reports spread that Netanyahu was determined to attack Rafah anyway, with or without a deal. It was broadly assumed that Bibi himself was the source of these reports, briefing friendly media allies in an attempt to sabotage the ceasefire.

This was because, while a ceasefire in exchange for the return of hostages is acceptable to many Israelis, it is not palatable to key elements of Netanyahu’s coalition, and Bibi is unwilling to sacrifice his own career to bring the hostages home. He knew he could not be seen to publicly reject a deal that would ensure the hostages’ return, so he tried to engineer its collapse behind the scenes.

On the Keshet 12 evening news programme last Saturday, on the most-watched commercial station in Israel, news presenter Yaron Avraham confirmed that this was the case, furiously declaring that he was “not going to play games anymore” and that everyone knew it was Netanyahu briefing that an invasion was imminent, just as a deal appeared close.

Among ordinary Israelis, this latest development is bringing more of those previously supportive of the war into the ceasefire camp, especially as Hamas itself publicly accepted the latest deal.

It has further exacerbated the growing political divide between those who prioritise the return of the hostages even at the cost of Hamas remaining undefeated, and those who prioritise the defeat of Hamas — or at least the continuation of the war — over the return of the kidnapped.

The renewed offensive shows Bibi’s response. Forced to choose between a deal, however imperfect, that would have at least begun bringing home Israelis or continuing to placate the hard-Right politicians necessary to maintain his rule, the tanks rumbling into Rafah tell us which choice he made.


David Swift is a historian and author. His next book, Scouse Republic, will be published in 2025.

davidswift87

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

16 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kevin Kilcoyne
Kevin Kilcoyne
11 days ago

“especially as Hamas itself publicly accepted the latest deal.”
As I understand it, Hamas accepted a Qatari/Egyptian deal that did not have any Israeli delegation involved. They also ‘accepted’ the deal on 2 conditions;
The ceasefire would be a bridge to an ending of the war, and the hostages to be returned may be returned dead or alive.
Considering the whole reason to start the war was to ‘eliminate Hamas’ and to ‘bring the hostages home’, accepting a deal with these two conditions would make a mockery of Israel on the international stage.

michael harris
michael harris
11 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Kilcoyne

Hamas’s ‘acceptance’ of its version of the ‘deal’ was accompanied by a rocket attack from Rafah.
Patience, Israel.
Any clever negotiating tactic by the enemy will always be undermined by their ungovernable hatred.

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
11 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Kilcoyne

Indeed, Hamas accepted the deal that it itself wrote. That didn’t prevent all the major media to trumpet “Hamas accepts the cease-fire deal!” without checking what deal it is they accepted. Disappointing but not surprising. Most disappointing is the role of the American mediators headed by CIA chief Burns, who reportedly failed to advise Israel that Qatar and Egypt had presented Hamas with a deal that Israel hadn’t seen, and who maintained initially that Hamas had only introduced a few minor word changes into THAT deal – minor changes such as adding “alive or dead” after “33 hostages” …

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
11 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Kilcoyne

Simultaneously, in Canada one of Hama’s political arm said a ceasefire did not mean an end to fighting, did not mean Israel would not be destroyed, and the next step would be increased violence in the West Bank.

Rob Alka
Rob Alka
6 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Kilcoyne

I thought the whole reason for this war was that 75 year ago the UN gave away Palestinian’s homeland to Jews, who called it Israel and steadily expanded it by taking over, authorizing and/or illegally occupying Palestinian’s contiguous homeland (knowingly ignored or shrugged off by the UN), all the while pushing out Palestinian homesteaders, replaced by an ever-increasing number of Orthodox Jews, thereby confirming what Palestinians have increasingly realised for those 75 years, that a two-state solution was the very last thing Israel had in mind with all that Palestinian land up for grabs and, besides which, that non-neighbouring feeling was mutual, regardless of the Abraham Accords .
Meanwhile the Democratic West is debating into oblivion the finer points on how to bring about a cease fire for a few hours/days/months (delete as appropriate). And America believes they need Israel as their military fort” in that region, complementing their NATO position in Europe.
Hitler’s Germany thought they were the Chosen Few. The Jews have thought the same about themselves for a few thousand years, thanks to G-d and his right hand man, Moses. Plus of course the Old Testament’s pseudo “freehold” of land (Jerusalem-plus) later called “Israel”) which the Palestinians and others have been allowed to live on for a few hundred years.

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
11 days ago

I don’t agree with this analysis at all. The (so far partial) Rafah invasion is widely seen in Israel as a way to bring more pressure to bear on Hamas for agreeing on a hostage exchange deal. As such is it widely supported by the public, the pictures of demonstrations notwithstanding. It was sad, then, to see Israel’s American allies putting counter-pressure ON ISRAEL by declaring publicly that they will stop supplying Israel with high-precision munitions if Israel carries on with Rafah – thereby negating the pressure on Hamas and making a hostage deal less, rather than more, likely.
The war cabinet and extended cabinet include centrist ministers for whom the release of the hostages is in fact more important than the continuation of the war. As long as they stay silent, most of the public understands that it means that there is no acceptable deal on the table. Most of the public also understands that a hostage deal does not depend only on the Israeli government. It should also be understood that under any scenario, it is unlikely that Sinwar’s Hamas would willingly release all the hostages it is holding. Thus, the chapter that started on October 7th won’t be closing anytime soon, and that would be true regardless of who the Israeli prime minister is.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
11 days ago

I can’t help but think that the author has a severe case of NDS. Look there is only 1 ceasefire deal that is reasonable. Return ALL remaining hostages and stop launching rockets into Israel. If hamas doesn’t accept this, and they won’t, there is only 1 reasonable solution and that is the complete and total destruction of Hamas. Otherwise what happened on Oct 7 will just repeat itself at ever reduced intervals.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
11 days ago

If this was true the coallition “war cabinet” would have broken up. So long as the government of left and right is in place I will take these sort of articles with more than a pinch of salt.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
10 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

An often overlooked point

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
10 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

As I have said before it is well publicised and at this point you have to be sceptical of anyone (especially journalists) who overlook the basic facts.

Henry
Henry
10 days ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Exactly, there seems to be a huge concerted media campaign to make Bibi the villian of this story with the Israeli people being unwillingly dragged along in his tyranny, but with the extremely low quality of info coming out of the region, I see the best gauge of whether the Israeli people support Bibi and his actions to be whether the bipartisan coalition government remains intact. As long as it does, I feel safe dismissing suggestions of a deeply divided Israeli public as just wishful thinking or, more likely, a narrative being pushed.

Patricia Hardman
Patricia Hardman
11 days ago

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the Gaza ceasefire proposal that Hamas said it accepted on Monday. The deal, which was put forward by Egypt and Qatar, would come in three stages that would see an initial halt in the fighting leading to lasting calm and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territory.

TLDR: Hamas gets everything they demand, Israeli gets what Hamas allows them to have.
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/5/6/text-of-the-ceasefire-proposal-approved-by-hamas

michael harris
michael harris
10 days ago

The document has been well described and analysed by the editor of The Times Of Israel (online). It would give Hamas renewed control of Gaza and rule in the West Bank replacing the PLO.

Arthur G
Arthur G
11 days ago

Obsessing over 100 hostages (most of whom are already dead) and making a deal with Hamas, would cost thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives in the future. Israeli need to exterminate Hamas, in Gaza, and in the Gulf states where their leaders hide.

michael harris
michael harris
10 days ago

Not too many Swifties here.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
10 days ago

This author is drawing a lot of broad conclusions from a handful of protests. Do these ‘protests’ represent a real change in the position of the Israeli public, or are they isolated incidents that may or may not reflect the views of significant numbers of Israelis. Might they even be organized by outsiders as the police have insinuated some of the American campus protests have been.
Further, the author is suspiciously stingy with specifics about the so called ‘imminent hostages deal’. What exactly did that deal entail? I presume Hamas didn’t just offer to free the hostages, who are civilians, not combatants, taken in clear violation of any accepted rules of warfare or international law. Israel would have accepted that. I further doubt that Hamas even offered some further prisoner exchange, which was used earlier to free some of the hostages, which I presume Israel would probably again agree. The hostages are the only card Hamas has to play. At this point, it’s obvious nobody else in the Middle East is coming to their aid, not Egypt, not Saudi Arabia, not Iran, and not even Hezbollah. It is Hamas alone against Israel and if Hamas releases their hostages, they then have no leverage whatsoever to use against Israel and nothing further to negotiate with. Once they no longer have the hostages, they are utterly at the mercy of a foe who possesses complete and total military superiority.
The reality is Hamas won’t agree to any deal that frees the hostages immediately and all at once due to the practical need to have assurances Israel will hold to whatever agreement it makes. They’ll dole them out piecemeal a few at a time to get further concessions, always keeping some to use for future leverage or agree to some schedule of releases that runs through months or years in order to gain time to rearm themselves and reestablish their authority in Gaza. Israel cannot and should not play their game. The ugly truth is that Israel can do nothing for the hostages and pragmatic, military thinkers who make life and death decisions on a regular basis have probably assessed the same facts I just did and written off the hostages as casualties of war. This isn’t some Disney movie where everybody lives happily ever after. War always entails sacrifices, and when its human lives on the scale, the choices are the most difficult leaders can face. Is Bibi making the right choices? That’s for history to decide somewhere down the road. Probably he’s not making all the right choices. Mistakes are made in every war, and the costs of mistakes are high. I’m willing to grant the man a lot of latitude because he’s in a difficult position that he didn’t choose.
We should never lose sight of the fact that Hamas chose this path when they perpetrated Oct. 7th and took civilian hostages. Whatever mistakes Israel has made since then, and doubtless they have made some, it shouldn’t lead us to forget how this conflict started and who started it.